Regular contributor Shannon Ross is back with today’s review of THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY.
Heidi Durrow’s Bellwether Prize Winning novel THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY encircles race, family, and tragedy in a coming-of-age novel about a bi-racial girl transplanted from Europe to Portland, OR in the early 1980s. The daughter of a Danish mother, Nella and a black G.I. father, Rachel is a bi-racial girl who does not see herself as black or white, only as her parents’ child. When family circumstances bring Rachel to the US and tragedy strikes her mother and siblings, Rachel finds herself living with her black grandmother in Portland isolated from everything she has known.
As a pre-teen living in a predominantly black US neighborhood, Rachel quickly learns two lessons: kids self-segregate into white and black friend groups, and being bi-racial means you don’t fit into either. The majority of the story focuses on how Rachel thinks and grows as she interacts with her classmates and new family, and through this process details are revealed about Rachel’s parents and the family tragedy. This unveiling is assisted by interspersed chapters in the voices of Laronne (Nella’s manager) and Brick (a young child who witnesses the tragedy), as well as excerpts from Nella’s diary.
Author Heidi Durrow has written extensively on bi-racial identity, through short stories, her blog (www.lightskinnededgirl.typepad.com), and podcast (www.mixedchickschat.com), and there are evidently auto-biographical elements to the story. Like Rachel, Durrow has a Danish mother and G.I. father as well as blue eyes, although she is quick to point out on her website that she fortunately does not share any of the tragedy that Rachel does.
While I was interested in the story and read it quickly, I was left wanting a little more from the book. I did not feel as engrossed as I thought I would with Rachel’s voice and experiences, and I did not expect the story to stop where it did. There were definitely strong elements to the novel, and it is a worthwhile read, particularly for a debut novel. I am interested to see how Durrow’s career progresses, as this debut has received a fair amount of acclaim, including strong praise from Barbara Kingsolver (whom I enjoy) through her Bellwether Prize. From exploring her website Durrow seems very passionate and approachable, and even volunteers to participate in book clubs (FYI!)
Although my overall opinions were mixed, I’m glad I read it. There are certainly a lot of issues and interpretations that a book club could discuss, and this novel might be a great precursor for more to come from Durrow.
— Shannon Ross, Regular Contributor