Friday, March 19, 2010
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
The Girl Who Fell is part coming of age story and part mystery. The protagonist is Rachel--the daughter of a Black American soldier and a Danish mother. She's eleven years old when the story opens, on her way to Chicago to live with her paternal grandmother. We understand right from the start that Rachel has survived a tragedy that killed her mother, brother, and baby sister.
In Chicago she's immersed in an all black community for the first time in her life...Not only is she trying to grieve...trying to heal, but she also has to make sense of growing up in a world where she doesn't exactly belong. Her light colored skin and blue eyes set her apart and draw a constant stream of attention her way.
Throughout the course of the novel, Durrow shifts between Rachel's perspective and that of an eye-witness to the tragedy she survived. He's a boy just about her age...Jamie...who later becomes known as "Brick". This shift, and the way the two characters' stories intertwine, break apart, and come back together, is beautiful, surprising, rich...But Durrow also includes chapters from the perspective of Laronne, a friend of Rachel's mother. Laronne finds some of Rachel's mother's journals at one point, so we hear Nella's voice as well. This shift feels contrived to me...maybe unnecessary. And in both cases, when the perspective shifts, Durrow shifts from first person to third...I can't figure out why she made that choice. Why not let us hear Brick's story in his own voice? (Jayne Anne Phillips did the same thing in Lark and Termite...and Amy Bloom in Where the God of Love Hangs Out...a trend I'm not enjoying.)
But these were minor irritations in an otherwise gorgeous novel. There were many things I loved about it...I loved the fact that I spent almost the entire book in suspense...wondering what happened to Rachel and her family and how she survived...wondering how it would all come together. I loved the entire cast of characters (even Laronne...though I could have gotten to know her without actually hearing her side). I loved watching Rachel cope and fail and struggle and grow and heal. Her story is universal, albeit extreme. It's about figuring out who you are and who you want to be and reconciling the two. It's about finding your way in a world that's pushing and pulling you to be something else. These are things we can all relate to...
At one point, Rachel talks about her grandmother's dream for her...to get a nice office job, a three bedroom house, a husband...She says, "Grandma sees these things when she talks about them and gestures with her hands like she's painting brush strokes in the air. The way Grandma paints her dream for me, there's a low sky."
The Girl Who Fell is a story about carving out a place for yourself...painting your own dreams. At the end of the book I was left with the feeling that Rachel's still out there trying to do just that.