Book: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
Rating: 4/5 miles traveled from home
Recommended if you like: Stories that follow a character as they grow up, stories that discuss race and identity, stories that discuss the female experience
First Lines: “You my lucky piece,” Grandma says. Grandma has walked me the half block from the hospital lobby to the bus stop. Her hand is wrapped around mine like a leash.
Published: February 16, 2010 by Algonquin Books
Review: I am always happy to find another book to read that talks about the experiences of mixed race people, since they are relatively uncommon. I mostly wanted to read The Girl Who Fell From The Sky because the main character is mixed, but I got more than I expected from this story.
The book begins when the main character, Rachel, is nine years old and has just been sent to live with her grandmother. She is the sole survivor of a family tragedy, and it is unclear why her father (the only remaining member of her immediate family) has not sent for her. Rachel’s mother was Danish, and her father is a black GI that has been stationed overseas for as long as she can remember. It’s immediately apparent that she gets noticed because she has light skin and bright blue eyes, and she is living with her black grandmother. We follow Rachel from when she first moves to Portland, Oregon with her grandmother to when she’s about to turn eighteen. Throughout the narrative, we witness her growing up, the friendships she makes (and the racially driven reasons behind them), the relationships she finds herself in, while the underlying mystery of what happened to her (since Rachel can’t remember what happened that day). Meanwhile, the story sometimes shifts points of view to a young boy who calls himself Brick, who witnessed the tragedy firsthand out his living room window, and goes on a quest across the country to find Rachel.
I have only gotten around to reading a few books that are from the perspective of a mixed-race protagonist, but the ones I have read tend to focus on this the most. I appreciated that the story organically showed what it was like to be mixed, but also inserted the experience of being a teenage girl and fitting in with your classmates, interacting with your family, and navigating relationships. Rachel deals with being told she isn’t black enough, the experience of unwittingly passing for white, and being seen as “exotic” by romantic interests. I also found it very compelling that as Rachel grows up, she acts rather reckless. When confronted by her grandmother about her behavior, she simply says, “I wasn’t supposed to have a future…It doesn’t matter what I do. This is my life. It’s my life to throw away.”
Read this book if you like being able to peek into a character’s life, if you like seeing a fully-shaped version of what life is like for someone else. Read it if you like figuring out an underlying mystery about the characters you read. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, and definitely recommend it.