I was drawn to this novel after reading the description: a girl with a white, Danish mother and an African-American father, struggles with her cultural identity in the U.S. At once, it reminded me of Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen’s Quicksand published in 1928. The story background is nearly identical. So, I was curious to see how Durrow would build on Larsen’s classic. Fast-forward sixty years and the basic plot of Quicksand is as culturally relevant (and personally relevant for Durrow) as it was when Larsen wrote her novel.
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is set in the 1980s and broken into two parts. The first lingers on the childhood of Rachel, the bi-racial protagonist with beautiful blue eyes and creamy dark skin that sets her apart from everyone she knows. Each chapter is written from the view point of a different character. Fitting together several first person narratives made the story much more personal than a traditional third person narrator. Part two brings all the characters full-circle. We watch Rachel try on her “whiteness” and “blackness” until she comes to terms with her heritage and her family.
If you’re familiar with Quicksand you may remember that Helga Crane’s story is similar to Rachel’s. However, Helga’s story ends with an observation – that the time for women of color to be free hasn’t quite come. And it wasn’t until the 1960s that black women’s suffrage rights were upheld throughout the country. The Girl Who Fell ends on a note of hope – people who love Rachel are always telling her she can be what she wants to be, do what she wants to do. And in this way at least we can trust that Rachel's story is true – that things have changed enough to give us hope. This is a coming-of-age story that shows the struggle of growing up outside of preconceived conventions about race. We see this story from every angle: the white mother, the black father, the neighbor boy, the boss and the aunt – which adds an important dimension to this narrative.
Heidi Durrow’s first novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, is an impressive accomplishment. I was skeptical at first, being familiar with Larsen’s novel, but Durrow did not disappoint. I enjoyed the narrative structure and the prose captured the atmosphere perfectly. If you're wondering what the title and cover picture have to do with the book well, they’re part of the mystery and tension that surround Rachel's life. Follow along as Rachel pieces her life together to make sense of it all.
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010 Recommended Age: 16+
Source: IC Public Library Pages: 264
Rating: 4.5 Stars More on this author at: http://heidiwdurrow.com/