The Girl Who Fell from the Sky Summary and Reviews

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

by Heidi W. Durrow

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
  • Readers' rating:

  • Published in USA  Feb 2010
    256 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. 

With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, here is a portrait of a young girl— and society's ideas of race, class, and beauty.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[O]ne can't help but be drawn in by these characters and by the novel's exploration of race and identity." - Library Journal

"The grim, penetratingly observed story...nothing especially groundbreaking here, but the author examines familiar issues of racial identity and racism with a subtle and unflinching eye." - Kirkus Reviews

"Taut prose, a controversial conclusion and the thoughtful reflection on racism and racial identity resonate without treading into political or even overtly specific agenda waters..." - Publishers Weekly

"When I first envisioned the Bellwether Prize, I imagined all the best qualities of fiction; vivid language, compelling characters, and clear moral vision. Novels just like this one, Heidi Durrow's breathless telling of a tale we've never heard before. Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect, this book could not be more timely." - Barbara Kingsolver

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Reader Reviews

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Betsy T. (Oklahoma City, OK)

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
I liked this book a lot, especially for the perspective of Rachel, a biracial teenager who feels that people form impressions of her just because of her appearance. Although I learned how a girl like this must have to deal with the world around her, she was portrayed as an individual, never a stereotype. Perhaps this was because of the tragic family story hinted at by the title, but also because as a reader I saw how her family and her experiences shaped her development and growing up.
The structure of the novel is short chapters told from the points of view of different characters. At first it seemed somewhat choppy, but I grew to appreciate the glimpses of the story that created the whole. The development of the characters and the story gradually came together to form a sad but very satisfying novel. I recommend it to fiction readers who like complex characters, coming of age stories, and realistic settings.

Marsha Toy Engstrom, The Book Club Cheerleader

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi Durrow
This fresh coming of age story is alternately narrated by several unique voices—and in this way, dark family secrets are slowly revealed to the reader. We see the story unfold from: Rachel, the title character; her late mother, Nella, by way of journal entries; a neighbor boy, Brick (aka: Jamie); Nella’s supervisor, Laronne; and by Rachel’s father, Roger, in a solitary, yet insightful entry. Rachel’s voice is by far the strongest. Her honest words resonate with quiet wisdom as she struggles with such themes as: racial identity, love and loss, affection and sexuality, abandonment and belonging, and growth and survival. Durrow also addresses gritty themes such as alcoholism and recovery, and abuse and caretaking. In a skillful counterpart, Brick struggles with many of these same issues as Rachel.
As a sixth-grade girl, we hear Rachel describe her new grandmother: “This is the picture I want to remember: Grandma looks something like pride. Like a whistle about to blow.” Later, as a freshman in high school, we hear Rachel lament “...the other black girls in school think I want to be white. They call me an Oreo. I don’t want to be white. Sometimes I want to go back to being what I was. I want to be nothing.” Or as James McBride’s mom would’ve described it, “the color of water.”
Rachel is a broken soul and in order to try to make sense of her outward self, she stuffs her feelings: anger, sadness, hurt—and anything she believes may not be acceptable to those around “the new girl”—into what she visualizes as an internal blue bottle with a stopper to keep all of her “bad” feelings in…Heartbreaking, and yet in Durrow’s sparse prose, so clearly seen and felt.
The ending was a bit unsatisfying, but the powerful story, the haunting prose, and the idiosyncratic, well-developed characters overshadow this tiny flaw. Book Clubs will certainly have plenty to discuss.
Coming of age, coming to terms—without completely coming undone…Rachel’s story will yank at your heartstrings. This cheerleader gives Heidi Durrow’s freshman novel a two pom pom cheer!

Katharine P. (Boulder, CO)

Not The Bluest Eye
A heartbreaking inside view of growing up half black and half white. A young girl survives a landing from 9 storeys up (was she pushed, did she fall?) which her mother and siblings did not. Taken in by the African American side of the family in Portland, she starts to make decisions about who she is and how she will face the rest of her life. Did I say heartbreaking? You will root for her and hope she does more than survive the decisions about who she is she keeps being forced to make. This title will appeal to adults, is great for bookclubs, but should be suggested to thoughtful young adults as well. The voice is strong and clear and the writing is transcendent and beautiful.

Jean O. (DePere, WI)

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
This book is a treasure; well written and a joy to read. Reading it made me think of loom weaving; different threads combined to make a beautiful piece of fabric. The gradual introduction of each character and of each portion of the plot is done so well. The story pulled me in and kept me feeling involved. The award the author received for a book concerning social justice is well deserved.

Lynn S. (LYNCH STATION, VA)

Provacative
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow, is a very uncommon story. I found the book easy to read in the sense that the prose is comfortable and natural. On the other hand, it was difficult for me to capture the characters and their relationship with each other during the first 50 pages. After that, I became awed by the struggle that occurred as daily events to the young protagonist, Rachel. While reading the book, both the “tragedy” and the “reality of Rachel” seemed to me to be fabricated. Much to my surprise (after hearing an interview with Ms. Durrow on NPR All Things Considered on March 2, 2010) I learned that both of these aspects of the book are based on true experiences. The story of the tragedy (which is unveiled gradually throughout the chapters) and its aftermath was interesting to me from a philosophical perspective and is based on a true story. The story of Rachel’s youth was otherwise and was actually autobiographical. In my opinion and more importantly than it being based on reality, the story of Rachel, herself, is what caused my compulsion to complete the book. How often are we told that people are people even if they are of different races or from different cultures? Yet, how seldom do we have the opportunity to learn about the inner experiences of a soul who is in fact bi-racial? In summary, I want to give Ms. Durrow the highest of praise…she made me look inside myself.

Laura P. (Atlanta, GA)

Deserving Prizewinner
This Bellweather Prize winner addresses issues of racial identity, class prejudice, substance abuse, and adolescent sexuality through a compact, well-written, and moving story packed with sympathetic and well-defined characters. The story revolves around an unthinkable family tragedy and its impact on the several narrators, most notably Rachael, a mixed-race child who is the survivor of the event. While the story is not a mystery, the details of the keynote incident are revealed slowly through out the story in a way that allows the author, Heidi Durrow, to explore a number of issues from various perspectives. It's compelling reading!

...12 more reader reviews

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The Girl Who Fell From The Sky won the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.

Heidi W. Durrow has won the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Chapter One Fiction Contest. She has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the American Scandinavian Foundation, and the Lois Roth Endowment and a Fellowship for Emerging Writers from the Jerome Foundation. Her writing has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, the Literary Review, and others. Visit her online at www.heidiwdurrow.com

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