Thursday, July 23, 2015
The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi Durrow
Published January 2011 by Algonquin Books
Narrators: Kathleen McInerney, Karen Murray, Emily Bauer
Source: purchased by audio copy at my local library book sale
Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop.
Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief, that she comes to understand how the mystery and tragedy of her mother might be connected to her own uncertain identity.
This is a book that interested me on several levels: my own heritage is partially Danish, stories about family tragedies always draw me in, and I have two great-nephews and a great-niece that are biracial so I'm going to touch on each of those by way of reviewing this book.
Durrow herself is the daughter of a Danish mother and African-American G.I. who grew up struggling being a young girl with light brown skin and blue eyes who grew up struggling to define who she was for people who only wanted to understand if she was black or white. Taking that background, Durrow has crafted a haunting tale of a young girl forced to face her not only the tragedy of the lose of her family, but her own heritage. Rachel and her siblings spend their earliest years unaware they are either black or white...they just are.
But when their mother moves them to the U.S. (a place their father has refused to live), she becomes acutely aware that people look at the children and don't understand they belong to her. She has to face racism. Her quest to protect them will, ultimately, lead to tragedy. As the book unfolds, readers learn more and more about what actually happened, and what led to it.
It was not until Rachel went to live with her grandmother and aunt that Rachel finally began to find out what it meant to have brown skin and nappy hair, particularly when those came paired with bright blue eyes. As much as her grandmother pushed her to fit in to her new community, the other children were not so quick to accept her. This was not in the deep South; it was in Portland, Oregon. Even when Rachel finds a young white man who seems to fit in seamlessly in both worlds, it becomes clear that part of her attraction for him is her color. My own teenaged niece and nephew have large circle of friends but that doesn't mean they haven't faced their share of struggle. Durrow helped me understand exactly what that struggle feels like.
This is a powerful story that was, for me, brought down by having listened to it, rather than reading it. Three narrators were used for the audio version of this book - only one of them really worked for me. My recommendation then, if you find this book of interest, is to pick it up in print form.