Review: The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi Durrow

Title: The Girl Who Fell From The Sky
Author: Heidi Durrow
Pages: 264
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: February 16th, 2010
Publisher: Algonquin
Source: Personal Copy

There are months that celebrate African-American heritage, Hispanic heritage, and many other racial and cultural identities, but nothing that focuses on people of multiple races. As tolerance and acceptance of people's differences increases, so does the amount of children born to parents of different backgrounds, yet acknowledgement of being biracial is almost nonexistent. The election of President Obama is a prime example of how people in America, the quintessential 'melting pot' of the world, refuse to allow people to embrace both sides of their ancestry. Instead of allowing him to be the first biracial president, our society makes him pick one race to identify with in an attempt to define him and place him in a category that is accepted and easy to understand.

Now, I am not biracial and make no claims to knowing or understanding the multidimensional experiences of those who are, but books like Heidi Durrow's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky help bring the issue up for discussion. Before I delve into the writing and plot, I must say that the novel contains so many potential topics for deeper discussion such as domestic violence, alcoholism, racial tensions, and mental disorders. This is probably why Durrow won the biyearly Bellwether Prize, which "was established in 2000 by Barbara promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships." I think this would make an ideal read for a group or book club that likes discussion that goes beyond the text itself.
I will not be sad. I will be okay. Those promises become my layers. The middle that no one will touch.
Born the daughter of a Danish mom and an African-American G.I. stationed overseas, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky tells the story of Rachel Morse, a young girl who moves to Portland, Oregon after being the sole survivor of a terrible tragedy that claims her mother, brother, and sister. Too grief-stricken to care for her himself, Rachel's father sends her to live with her strict grandmother and her Aunt Loretta. Rachel must navigate the rough waters of being not only the new girl but also biracial in a mostly black community. As time passes, she must come to terms with the pain of losing her family, the abandonment by her father, and the alienation from her peers. With her light brown skin and her bright blue eyes, Rachel tries to discover her own identity while stumbling along the road to self acceptance.
It's easy to smile just to make other people feel better. But when a person fakes happy, it has edges. Regular people may not see, but the people who count, they can see edges and lines where your smile ends and the real you...begins.
My overall impression of this novel was positive, but I feel like Durrow's story was too safe. There were many points during my reading where I just wanted to push the characters further and force them to take harder looks and make deeper connections. So much of the focus was on solving the mystery behind the family tragedy that I felt the more difficult subject matter was diluted thus keeping the story from reaching a higher level of social analysis. Perhaps this could have been done had the author kept with Rachel's perspective instead of revealing things through different point of views for each chapter, although I liked Brick's story and felt there was a lot there that could have been fleshed out. I also enjoyed the non linear narrative and the way information was revealed slowly through the different narrators; however, I do think keeping the focus on Rachel would have added another layer that seemed to be missing for me. There's a line later in the book that I feel supports my idea that the use of first person was a little too safe. "The answers might be in Nella's journals, but Laronne couldn't be sure. We lie to ourselves in many ways; we write down only what we want to understand and what we want to see." For me, I felt like the characters made poor choices without fully confronting the consequences of the decisions and only focusing on what they wanted to see.

One thing I did like was how Durrow managed to subtly ask questions of the reader such as: What makes a person identify with a certain race more than another? Is it a personal choice or one that society makes for him or her? While I don't think she ever really finds out who she is, Rachel does let out some of herself that she bottled up over the years and realizes that she doesn't want "being Danish to be something that I can put on and take off. I don't want the Danish in me to be something time makes me leave behind."
If the book's timeline had been extended by another five years or so, I think the reader could have really seen Rachel grow as a person as she enters adulthood and begins to make decisions for herself.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky was a fast and easy read that brought up a lot of excellent ideas and food for thought. Although, I think I was expecting a slightly more literary work, even if it is written from a child's perspective. While I wasn't wowed by Durrow's novel, I do think it's a great book for discussion, and for me, that seems to be where there might be something to gain.


  1. This is a fantastic review! I had been curious about this book but have heard such mixed things. I'm convinced now that I'd probably like this. And I completely agree with you about Obama!! I'm half Asian/half white so I relate a little and it irritates me that he is considered just one race.

  2. I also have read mixed reviews, but I do have a copy, and your thoughts have inspired me to read it and see what I think. I think this book would be perfect for my book club, as there is so much here that we could chew over and discuss. I need to make a not of it for the next meeting! Great review today!

  3. My book club picked this one for our list so I will be reading it soon.

  4. I'm planning to read this one this year (and all of the Bellwether winners), so I'm glad to hear your thoughts. I'll go into it with lower expectations and hope to enjoy it. Thanks!


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