Falling up

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
Heidi w. Durrow

The review was glowing, the novel won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, it was on Best Fiction lists for the year–and yet I passed over this one for months. I shouldn’t have. I’ll be honest–I like plots that haven’t been done before (although I suppose in some ways there’s even a brush of Hunchback of Notre Dame here) which is why the book appealed to me. Rachel Morse, 11-years-old, survives her young family’s murder/suicide: a jump from the roof of their Chicago apartment building. Rachel’s Danish mother had recently moved her children to the United States to be with her boyfriend, a man who has difficulty accepting her biracial children. Mourning the loss of her marriage to an African American GI, struggling to keep her alcoholism under control, homesick for Denmark–it was all too much. And now young Rachel must live with the gruesome truth that she lived because the bodies softened her landing.

As if losing mom and siblings wasn’t enough, Rachel is taken cross country to live with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Oregon. There, Rachel, light-skinned and blue-eyed, is immersed in black culture–her white mother and Danish roots never mentioned. Rachel’s quiet longing for what she has lost threads its way through her life as she grows to love (and, sadly, lose) vivacious Aunt Loretta and her activist husband Drew, and, of course, her demanding Grandma. The only biracial girl in school, she tries to find her place despite the taunts and teasing of other girls. Dare she reveal her quick mind and devotion to school? Can she hold on to the fragments of Danish sometimes surface–and tie her to her mother? Is she black? Or white?

Parallel to Rachel’s story is the story of the only witness to the family’s fall: young Brick. Devastated by what he saw, Brick becomes devoted to the memory of Rachel. He eventually leaves his addict mother on a cross-country quest to find the girl who fell from the sky. And it is their eventual meeting becomes the catalyst for both to heal.

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