Book Review: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
Reading format: Library hardback
Content warnings: death, racism, suicide
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Set in the 1980’s, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky follows the story of Rachel, the daughter of a white Danish woman and a Black American soldier. She’s the only survivor of a tragic accident that claimed the lives of her mother, brother, and baby sister after they moved back to the U.S. Rachel’s father is too grief-stricken to care for her, so she is sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Oregon.
Having spent most of her life in racially tolerant and “color blind” Europe, Rachel now lives in a predominantly Black community in Portland, where she becomes increasingly aware of her biracial heritage. There she realizes she is Black, but not “Black enough.” She struggles to figure out how she fits in with her school yard peers who single her out for her light skin, blue eyes, and “white behavior.” As she learns how to cope with her grief and estrangement, she slowly pieces together memories and truths of what happened the day she fell from the sky.
Durrow tells Rachel’s story from different points of view in a non-linear fashion. We also hear from Jamie, Rachel’s neighbor in Chicago who witnessed the accident; Nella, Rachel’s mother who struggles with the racism her children experience in Chicago; Laronne, who helped Nella find a job and who cleaned up Nella’s apartment after the accident; and Roger, Rachel’s father who is too paralyzed by grief to care for his daughter.
Durrow’s lyrical writing style offers a soft, poetic account of how this tragic family accident affected Rachel and those around her. My only critique really boils down to personal preference: I’m not usually a fan of alternating perspectives or non-linear stories.
As someone who thinks very linearly, it was somewhat difficult for me to follow each character’s timeline. We’re simultaneously learning about Rachel in the present while also learning about her family and other characters in the past. However, once introduced to everyone, continuing to read bred familiarity with Durrow’s characters. As a result, it became easier to flit back and forth between each person and time period.