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The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

3.6 122
by Heidi W. Durrow

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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


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 searing and heartwrenching portrait of a young biracial girl dealing with society’s ideas of race and class is the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.

Editorial Reviews

Lisa Page
Death, disappointment and loss are constants. The characters all struggle to make sense of a world they can't seem to belong in, racially or economically. And the structure of the novel, with each chapter told from a different character's viewpoint, has a sort of "Rashomon" quality that builds tension around the rooftop mystery. Durrow's novel is an auspicious debut, winner of the Bellwether Prize for socially conscious fiction. She has crafted a modern story about identity and survival, although some of the elements come together a little too neatly. Still, this is a fresh approach to an old idea. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is not just a tale of racial ambiguity but a human tragedy.
—The Washington Post
Louisa Thomas
…although there's a plot twist at the end, the novel isn't driven by suspense. Instead, its energy comes from its vividly realized characters, from how they perceive one another. Durrow has a terrific ear for dialogue, an ability to summon a wealth of hopes and fears in a single line.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Durrow's debut draws from her own upbringing as the brown-skinned, blue-eyed daughter of a Danish woman and a black G.I. to create Rachel Morse, a young girl with an identical heritage growing up in the early 1980s. After a devastating family tragedy in Chicago with Rachel the only survivor, she goes to live with the paternal grandmother she's never met, in a decidedly black neighborhood in Portland, Ore. Suddenly, at 11, Rachel is in a world that demands her to be either white or black. As she struggles with her grief and the haunting, yet-to-be-revealed truth of the tragedy, her appearance and intelligence place her under constant scrutiny. Laronne, Rachel's deceased mother's employer, and Brick, a young boy who witnessed the tragedy and because of his personal misfortunes is drawn into Rachel's world, help piece together the puzzle of Rachel's family. Taut prose, a controversial conclusion and the thoughtful reflection on racism and racial identity resonate without treading into political or even overtly specific agenda waters, as the story succeeds as both a modern coming-of-age and relevant social commentary. (Feb.)\
Library Journal
Durrow's first novel, inspired by a real event, won the 2008 Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice. The young protagonist, Rachel, is the only survivor after her mother apparently threw her and her two siblings from a roof and then jumped to her own death. Like a good mystery, this book builds to the startling revelation of what really happened and why a loving mother would kill her children. But there's much more, and if the novel has a weakness, it's that it oozes conflict. Rachel, who is biracial, is abandoned by her father; a boy who witnesses the rooftop incident has his own difficulties, including a neglectful mother who's also a prostitute. But one can't help but be drawn in by these characters and by the novel's exploration of race and identity. VERDICT With similar themes to Zadie Smith's White Teeth and a tone of desolation and dislocation like Graham Swift's Waterland and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, this is also recommended for readers intrigued by the psychology behind shocking headlines.—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
Kirkus Reviews
The grim, penetratingly observed story of a half-black teen and her struggles with racial identity in 1980s America. Rachel is the daughter of a Danish woman and an African-American GI. When the marriage fails, in part because of lingering damage from an accident that took place before Rachel's birth and of which she knows nothing, her mother takes Rachel and two younger siblings to live in Chicago. But the odds are stacked against a single mom rearing three small children in poverty while dealing with her alcoholism and an abusive boyfriend. The family's troubles are exacerbated to the point of disaster by the fact that the bewildered Mor ("that's mom in Danish," Rachel explains) doesn't really grasp the implications of her children's ambiguous racial status and is not prepared to deal on their behalf with prevailing American notions of what race is. After a horrific tragedy, Rachel goes to live with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Ore., where she is for the first time immersed in black culture and thinks of herself as being contained by, or constrained by, racial categories, prejudices and expectations. Interlaced with Rachel's story is that of her Chicago neighbor Brick, son of a woman who prostitutes herself for drugs. He witnessed the awful incident that nearly ended Rachel's life and in the aftermath became the unlikely keeper of a family secret. After years roaming the country as a runaway, he lands in Portland and happens upon Rachel in a coincidence not, perhaps, quite earned. Nonetheless, Durrow's debut won the 2008 Bellwether Prize for a fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice. Nothing especially groundbreaking here, but the author examines familiar issuesof racial identity and racism with a subtle and unflinching eye.
New York Times Book Review
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky can actually fly ... Its energy comes from its vividly realized characters, from how they perceive one another. Durrow has a terrific ear for dialogue, an ability to summon a wealth of hopes and fears in a single line.”
New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review
"Hauntingly beautiful prose . . . Exquisitely told . . . Rachel's tale has the potential of becoming seared in your memory." —Dallas Morning News
Washington Post
"An auspicious debut . . . [Durrow] has crafted a modern story about identity and survival." —Washington Post
Boston Globe
"A heartbreaking debut . . . keeps the reader in thrall." —Boston Globe
Miami Herald
"An auspicious debut . . . [Durrow] has crafted a modern story about identity and survival." —Washington Post
Dallas Morning News
"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky can actually fly. . . Its energy comes from its vividly realized characters, from how they perceive one another. Durrow has a terrific ear for dialogue, an ability to summon a wealth of hopes and fears in a single line." —The New York Times Book Review
NPR's Morning Edition
"Rachel’s voice resonated in my reading mind in much the same way as did that of the young protagonist of The House on Mango Street. there’s an achingly honest quality to it; both wise and naive, it makes you want to step between the pages to lend comfort.”
The Christian Science Monitor
"[An] affecting, exquisite debut novel . . . Durrow's powerful novel is poised to find a place among classic stories of the American experience." —Miami Herald
The Washington Post Book World
"An auspicious debut . . . [Durrow] has crafted a modern story about identity and survival.”
NPR’s Morning Edition
"A heartbreaking debut . . . keeps the reader in thrall." —Boston Globe
Ms. Magazine
"Rachel’s voice resonated in my reading mind in much the same way as did that of the young protagonist of The House on Mango Street. there’s an achingly honest quality to it; both wise and naive, it makes you want to step between the pages to lend comfort.”
“[An] insightful family saga of the toxicity of racism and the forging of the self . . . Durrow brings piercing authenticity to this provocative tale, winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.”
Booklist [starred review]
From the Publisher
"Stunning . . . What makes Durrow’s novel soar is her masterful sense of voice, her assured, nuanced handling of complex racial issues—and her heart.”

"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky can actually fly . . . Its energy comes from its vividly realized characters . . . Durrow has a terrific ear for dialogue, an ability to summon a wealth of hopes and fears in a single line."

"An auspicious debut . . . [Durrow] has crafted a modern story about identity and survival.”

"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is that rare thing: a post-postmodern novel with heart that weaves a circle of stories about race and self-discovery into a tense and sometimes terrifying whole.”

Christian Science Monitor
“That rare thing: a post-postmodern novel with heart that weaves a circle of stories about race and self-discovery into a tense and sometimes terrifying whole.”
Ms. Magazine
VOYA - Cynthia French
Rachel survived. At age eleven, she lived through a family tragedy and started life over with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Oregon. Set in the 1980s, this debut novel tells of community, family, and self, as blue-eyed, brown-skinned Rachel is forced to examine who she is, and "what" she is, as defined by the people around her and by herself. Told through frequent shifts of time and perspective, the interwoven stories of Rachel, Brick, Laronne, Roger, and Nella offer readers different pieces of the whole, each perspective showing another piece of Rachel's story, as well as the other characters'. This is a tale of self-discovery and coming of age, of honoring the good of the past and letting go. Rachel's story is moving and unsettling—it is also hopeful and healing. The themes addressed are not new, but they raise questions and issues that are relevant and timely. There is no lack of conflict in this novel, but Durrow is not heavy handed with the messages. The characters and their stories are compelling and flawed, but full of strength, intelligence, grace, and beauty. Feelings of love, desperation, and the need to belong are almost palpable. Readers will appreciate the complexity of relationships and perhaps take a closer look at their own beliefs and prejudices. Thoughtful and thought provoking, the book may be challenging for some, both in its nonlinear storytelling and its topic, but it is written with simple eloquence. Reviewer: Cynthia French

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

a novel
By Heidi W. Durrow


Copyright © 2010 Heidi W. Durrow
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-680-0

Chapter One


"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.

It is fall 1982 in Portland and it is raining. Puddle water has splashed up on my new shoes. My girl-in-a-new-dress feeling has faded. My new-girl feeling has disappeared.

My hand is in Grandma's until she reaches into a black patent leather clutch for change.

"Well, aren't those the prettiest blue eyes on the prettiest little girl," the bus driver says as we climb aboard. The new-girl feeling comes back and I smile.

"This my grandbaby. Come to live with me." Grandma can't lose Texas.

"Thank you, ma'am," I say. I mind my manners around strangers. Grandma is still a stranger to me.

I know only a few things about Grandma. She's a gardener. She has soft hands, and she smells like lavender.

For Christmas, Grandma always sent Robbie and me a card with a new ten-dollar bill wrapped in aluminum foil. On the back of the envelope where she pressed extra hard there'd be a small smudge. The card smelled like the lavender lotion she uses to keep her hands soft.

Grandma doesn't have a single wrinkle on her anywhere. She has eggplant brown skin as smooth as a plate all because of the lotion she sends for special from the South. "They got better roots down there-better dirt for making a root strong." Her body is a bullet. She is thick and short. Her dark hair is pulled back and is covered by a plastic bonnet.

"Well, aren't you lucky to have a special grandma," the bus driver says. "Pretty and lucky."

This is the picture I want to remember: Grandma looks something like pride. Like a whistle about to blow.

Grandma puts the change in for my fare. She wipes the rain off my face. "We almost home."

When we find our seats, she says something more, but I cannot hear it. She is leaning across me like a seat belt and speaks into my bad ear-it is the only lasting injury from the accident. Her hands are on me the whole ride, across my shoulder, on my hand, stroking my hair to smooth it flat again. Grandma seems to be holding me down, as if I might fly away or fall.

The bus ride is seven stops and three lights. Then we are home. Grandma's home, the new girl's home in a new dress.

Grandma was the first colored woman to buy a house in this part of Portland. That's what Grandma says. When she moved in, the German dairy store closed, and the Lutheran church became African Methodist. Amen. That part's Grandma too. All of Grandma's neighbors are black now. And most came from the South around the same time Grandma did.

This is the same house Pop and Aunt Loretta grew up in. On the dining room mantel are photographs of me and Pop. Of me and Grandma. Of me and Robbie. Of me, but none of Mor, that's mom in Danish.

"There, see that smile? That was the time I came to visit you over Christmas. Remember? Playing bingo. Oh! And I have a little present for you."

When she comes back, she holds a large wrapped box. I open the box. Make my first deals with myself. I will not be sad. I will be okay. Those promises become my layers. The middle that no one will touch.

"Thank you," I say and pull out two black Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls.

"Aunt Loretta gave you her room. Dressed it all up in pink. Did you know that's her favorite color?"

I nod.

"And look at your hair. All this pretty long hair looking all wild from outside."

"We're gonna wash that tonight," she continues. "Your Aunt Loretta will help you. Bet she know how to do something better with that mess of hair than what you had done before. You're gonna go to school Monday and be the prettiest girl there."

She doesn't say better than your mama. She doesn't say anything about my mother, because we both know that the new girl has no mother. The new girl can't be new and still remember. I am not the new girl. But I will pretend.

The two rag dolls that Grandma gave me sleep at the bottom of the bed. Grandma and Aunt Loretta want to check on the poor baby. That's me.

I close my eyes and pretend sleep. I pretend sleep all the time now. "Poor baby, so tired." Grandma pats my hair.

It's the kind of hair that gets nappy. Grandma tried to brush it out before bedtime. I held real still, but it still hurt. She said I was tender-headed. The comb got stuck in the bottom in the back. Grandma said the tangled part is what's called my kitchen.

"She's got good hair. Leave her be." Aunt Loretta pulled the comb out, untangled each hair. "It's the same place where my kitchen is," Aunt Loretta said. "Where I get the naps in my hair too."

"Black girls with a lot of hair don't need to be so tender-headed," Grandma said. My middle layers collapsed. And I cried. And cried and cried.

Now my nappy kitchen head is on the pillow. All wild, like Grandma says. And I'm done crying. I don't want to be a mess or nappy or be so tender. "I'll wash it tomorrow, Mama," Aunt Loretta says. Her voice is honey.

I want to be as beautiful as Aunt Loretta. She smiles all the time even when she looks at the picture of Uncle Nathan. Her teeth are white like paper and straight. She shows her teeth when she smiles. I have a cover-up-my-teeth smile. Maybe I started doing it when Pop called me Snaggletooth.

Aunt Loretta is nut brown and knows she's beautiful. She was Rose Festival princess and got to meet President John F. Kennedy. Her skin is even prettier than Grandma's and she doesn't use that sent-for lotion.

Grandma and Aunt Loretta leave the door open enough to let light in. But still I press my back into the bed and open my eyes. No more pretend sleep. Now I will be real awake. Make sure the dreams don't come. Stay awake. Stay away from dreaming.

Tomorrow is my first day at a new school. I have a new notebook and pencils and a pencil holder with a zipper. I am going to think about school and practice the best cursive and learn all the big words I can know. I am going to concentrate. Be a good girl.

In my diary I write: "This is Day 2." Second day at Grandma's house. I wish I could go back home. Home to before the summer in Chicago. Back to base housing in Germany when there was me and Robbie and Mor and Pop. And everything was okay. Even though there wouldn't be an Ariel, that would be okay too.

Aunt Loretta makes pancakes special for me even though she has no business in the kitchen. Two pancakes and not enough syrup is what she gives me. Syrup that makes a stain in the pancake middle, gone so fast like the pancake is thirsty. I eat exactly what she gives me.

Aunt Loretta eats only one pancake. And Grandma none because her teeth don't set right. There is something dangerous about pancakes because Grandma watches us eat. "How you gonna catch a lizard with your backside loading you down?" Grandma fusses at Aunt Loretta. I am smart and know that when she says "lizard" she means husband. That is called learning the meaning from the context. Because Grandma says it and she touches Aunt Loretta's face at the same time. That means she's talking about being pretty and being worth something and making it count.

Aunt Loretta laughs. And so do I. They are happy that I am laughing. It's the first time as the new girl.

"I don't need a lizard, Mama."

When Aunt Loretta says "Mama," I think of saying "Mor" and how I don't get to say it anymore. I am caught in before and after time. Last-time things and firsts. Last-time things make me sad like the last time I called for Mor and used Danish sounds. I feel my middle fill up with sounds that no one else understands. Then they reach my throat. What if these sounds get stuck in me?

I laugh harder, but the real laugh feels trapped inside too.

School is not a first-time thing. I sit in the front, where I always do. I sit quietly, like I am supposed to do. I raise my hand before speaking and write my name in the top right-hand corner of the paper. And the date. Because this is what good students do.

Mrs. Anderson is homeroom and language arts. She is a black woman. I think about this and don't know why. It is something I'm supposed to know but not think about. Mrs. Anderson is my first black woman teacher.

It makes me go back in my mind: Mrs. Marshall, first grade, favorite; Mrs. Price, second grade, not so nice; Mrs. Mamiya, third grade, beautiful; Mrs. Breedlove, fourth grade, smart; Mr. Engels, fifth grade, bald and deep voice. I remember they are all white.

There are fifteen black people in the class and seven white people. And there's me. There's another girl who sits in the back. Her name is Carmen LaGuardia, and she has hair like mine, my same color skin, and she counts as black. I don't understand how, but she seems to know.

I see people two different ways now: people who look like me and people who don't look like me.

"Rachel Morse?"


"Where are you from?"

I answer: "4725 Northeast Cleveland Avenue, Portland, Oregon, 97217." I hear laughter behind me.

Day 2 becomes Day 3. And the next day and the next. I count each day in my diary. Each day gets a new page.

Grandma thinks I am adjusting well. She says, "I think you adjustin just fine." I want her to put s's on the ends of her words and not say "fixin to" when she's about to do something. The kids in school say that, and I know they're not as smart as me.

There is a girl who wants to beat me up. She says, "You think you so cute." Her name is Tamika Washington. She says, "I'm fixin to kick your ass." Sometimes she pulls my hair. In gym class she grabbed my two braids. I said "ouch" really loud even though I didn't mean to and Mrs. Karr heard. She said, "Tamika," and blew the whistle real loud. And Tamika said, "Miss K. I'm just playin with her. Dang." When Mrs. Karr turned away again that's when Tamika said it. "I'm fixin to kick your ass after school. You think you so cute with that hair."

I am light-skinned-ed. That's what the other kids say. And I talk white. I think new things when they say this. There are a lot of important things I didn't know about. I think Mor didn't know either. They tell me it is bad to have ashy knees. They say stay out of the rain so my hair doesn't go back. They say white people don't use washrags, and I realize now, at Grandma's, I do. They have a language I don't know but I understand. I learn that black people don't have blue eyes. I learn that I am black. I have blue eyes. I put all these new facts into the new girl.

And I am getting better at covering up the middle parts. When Anthony Miller kicks the back of my chair in class, I focus on the bump bump bump until he stops. I can focus on the bump bump bump and not say anything. I hear the smile on his face as he bumps my chair. Is he counting the number of times he can bump before I tell on him? I don't tell on him. And when Antoine mocks me in a baby voice when I answer the questions right, I don't have to cry anymore or be so tender. When something starts to feel like hurt, I put it in this imaginary bottle inside me. It's blue glass with a cork stopper. My stomach tightens and my eyeballs get hot. I put all of that inside the bottle.

Aunt Loretta brushes my hair each morning and only sometimes makes pancakes. She's bought a special brush for me that's pink with white bristles. She holds my hair in her hands the same way as Mor did. Aunt Loretta's hands get lost in my hair. She has small wrists, tiny enough for me to wrap my fingers around. She has perfect red nails. She uses the nail on her right index finger to make the middle part. It doesn't scratch. She parts my hair from the front to the back to make the line. I feel the line she makes on my scalp. Grandma uses a sharp comb and it feels like she's dividing me in half.

Today is school picture day. Aunt Loretta wants to brush my hair special. I sit between her legs on her bedroom floor still in my favorite pajamas. Aunt Loretta smells of toothpaste and fresh white soap. I bunch my legs against my chest and wrap my arms around my knees. I feel like a boxer getting ready to fight in the ring. Not tender, just taken care of.

"Why do the other kids talk about my eyes?"

"Why?" Aunt Loretta says as if I should already know. "Because they're such a pretty blue."

I giggle when Aunt Loretta says this. A giggle can mean thank you or please stop looking at me. This time it means the first thing because it's school picture day and it's important to be pretty.

"Yeah, they're just like Mor's," I say, and I feel something like happy. I have said "Mor" out loud and made some of the inside sounds outside. I have said "Mor" and the glass inside me didn't shake.

I try the sounds again. "When Mor was little she had two braids in her hair too. Hestehaler. That means horsetails. I saw a picture." In the picture Mor is nine or ten or maybe eleven years old like me. She sits at a desk that opens up like a box.

"Well, today we're going to do something a little different," Aunt Loretta says. "Okay?"

I nod and know that it doesn't matter if I don't agree. I am a doll.

"I remember when I was a little girl," Aunt Loretta says. "I'd have to sit by the stove to get my hair pressed out. If I didn't smell the hair burning I knew it would be no good."

I have heard this story before. I think it's embarrassing but don't know why.

Aunt Loretta puts her nails in my hair and makes one part then another. She uses the big curling iron that goes in her hair even though my hair has curls. I smell hair burning.

I see a girl in the mirror when she is done, and she is not me. There are so many pieces to my hair. Nothing lays flat. There are stiff curls that don't wrap around my finger.

"You look like your grandmother spit you out herself." I don't want to be spit.

I am the letter M and somewhere in the middle for class pictures. When I sit down, my feet don't reach the floor. My middle is all jumbled. I do my best cover-up-my-teeth smile, but the corners of my mouth barely move.

"Such a pretty black girl," the photographer says. "Why won't you smile?"

Grandma's house is two blocks away from the Wonder Bread factory, which means that my house is two blocks away from it too. What's hers is mine, she says. Simple math. Mr. Kimble, my math teacher, says that's what's called the transitive property.

Only I don't like what's Grandma's: an oily pomade she wears that smears my cheek when she kisses me, a green velvet couch with deep brown swirls that no one can sit on unless special company comes by, a porcelain music box decorated with people who look like kings and queens and a servant with a broken arm, a dresser full of fabric she's saving for the day I learn how to sew. Hers is the sent-for lotion, the rocking chair on the porch, and the pictures on the mantel, and the powder that looks like cornstarch that she puts in my underwear drawer. She has a lot more things but these are the main ones. Grandma is a collector. I think of her collections as junk and scraps. Like the other volunteer sorters at the Salvation Army, Grandma sets aside the good stuff for herself. Good stuff is a silver spoon, or a china teacup with or without a matching plate, or a dress-up purse with four beads missing and a torn strap. Grandma has boxes of mismatched coffee cups and saucers and yards of corduroy, gingham, silk, and lace stuffed into dozens of drawers and boxes in the basement. All these things are worth something but maybe only that Grandma sees.

Grandma's things are mine, and I am not allowed to touch them. Only sometimes I do. Because how can you have something without holding it?

On Tuesdays we go to the Wonder Bread factory store and buy old bread even though it doesn't make any sense that the bread would be old because it comes from just next door. But maybe that's one of those things that works differently here in civilian life. That's what Pop would call it. He's a tech sergeant in the United States Air Force. He makes maps.

Civilian life is different than military life. In military life, you buy groceries at the commissary. Civilians buy groceries at "the store" even though that could mean Fred Meyer or the deli. Also in military life, you move a lot. Before we lived in Germany, we lived in Turkey. Pop never wanted to be stationed in the States. I don't know why. The good part about moving is you get to make new friends. The bad part is you don't see the old ones. Civilians live in the same house or apartment and know the same people their whole lives.

"Why would you want to live in the same place your whole life?" I ask my new friend Tracy. She's white. She looks at me like I'm crazy.

"You have to live where your parents live. That's just how it is," she says, and I make her not my friend anymore.


Excerpted from The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow Copyright © 2010 by Heidi W. Durrow. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Barbara Kingsolver
“[A] breathless telling of a tale we’ve never heard before. Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect.”
—Barbara Kingsolver, author and founder
George Hutchinson
“Echoes of the early Toni Morrison, resonances with Langston Hughes. . . . A stunning debut.”
—George Hutchinson, author of In Search of Nella Larson
From the Publisher
"Heidi Durrow is a wonderfully gifted writer who can summon a voice, a memorable character, with bold, swift strokes. [This] is a gem." —Jay Parini, author of Promised Land

"It engages the heart as much as it does the mind…Unforgettable." —Whitney Otto, author of A Collection of Beauties at the Height of their Popularity

"One of the most convincing, original, and moving novels in the distinguished canon of American interracial literature."
—George Hutchinson, author of In Search of Nella Larsen

Shannon Rhodes
“Rachel’s voice resonated . . . in much the same way as did that of the young protagonist of The House on Mango Street. There’s an achingly honest quality to it; both wise and naive.”
—Shannon Rhodes, NPR

Meet the Author

A graduate of Stanford University, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Yale Law School, Heidi W. Durrow has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the American Scandinavian Foundation, and the Lois Roth Endowment and a Fellowship for Emerging Writers from the Jerome Foundation. Her writing has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, the Literary Review, and others.

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The Girl Who Fell from the Sky 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 122 reviews.
novelone More than 1 year ago
Rachel is a biracial girl with light skin and blue eyes. She is also the only member of her family that survived a fall from a Chicago Housing Authority building. Did the mother and children jump, or were they pushed? Each chapter is a different character's voice revealing a little more of the mystery. As the truth is slowly revealed we gain insight into the lives of each character. Rachel is an especially poignant character. The characters were well drawn and I liked the format. I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it.
portland75 More than 1 year ago
Ms. Durrow gives the reader a unique look into the world of a biracial child. The questions they ask themselves and the questions that are asked of them by others are exposed. She keeps the reader on the edge so that they want to find out what is going to happen next. This book is great for adults and pre teens.
Teri_LaFlesh More than 1 year ago
The dream-like beauty and the poetic voices of the narrators drew me in from the first page. It was difficult to put down. I found myself reading The Girl Who Fell from the Sky while walking in the rain-and not noticing the rain. It's part mystery, part coming of age story. Within this context, Durrow explores the complexities of identity, writing with striking honesty and bravery. She truly captures the inner workings of a thoughtful, intelligent child trying to figure out who she is and her place within the world. The protagonist, Rachel, often faces conflicting information, especially when it comes to identity, and how being biracial fits within the narrow categories of race. One of the passages that struck me deeply is when Rachel says to herself: "I learn that black people don't have blue eyes. I learn that I am black. I have blue eyes. I put all these new facts into the new girl." I found The Girl Who Fell from the Sky to be an answer to Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. Whereas in The Bluest Eye, Pecola, a neglected and abused black girl wishes for blue eyes to make her beautiful so people will love her, in The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Rachel survives a terrible family tragedy, and because of her blue eyes and light skin, is ostracized and distrusted, and singled out for unwanted attention. Durrow gives each character a voice filled with grace and depth from their very different perspectives. Each of them contributes their stories to the puzzle of Rachel's tragic past, as well as her confusing present, creating a rich mosaic of haunting beauty that will stay with you long after you finish her story.
LeemarieLB More than 1 year ago
As a biracial person, I really enjoyed this book. It explores the questions and feelings a child/teen would have while growing up. Sometimes you may not feel you are part of your race because you are mixed and you try to find a place you belong. I enjoyed how everyone's story connected in some way. I would suggest this book to my friends!
ByteSize More than 1 year ago
Durow's book is thoughtfully written, by a young woman who has had to deal with many of the same questions as the main character, in regard to her own identity as a biracial person who straddles the lines of ethnicity. The book deals well with the issue by placing the main character in somewhat of a "fish out of water" situation, and she finds herself suddenly living in the black community for the first time. The moral of the book applies to all, not just those in the black community. Who we are transcends our environment, with the artificially created boundaries that have been constructed for us.
LaLa1831 More than 1 year ago
This book grabbed my attention from the first pages. I found myself thinking about the characters and wondering what would happen next. It sustained my attention for the first 200 pages and then it became a bit less interesting. I was hoping to learn more about Brick, the grandmother, and ultimately Rachel, but it ended without any resolution. I do recommend the book, but felt that the ending was somewhat disappointing.
krazyangel More than 1 year ago
this is a good book. it is a touching story.
19269684 7 months ago
Any time I see a tale on a child dealing with being a product of an IR relationship, I feel the need to read and know. With my son being mixed, I feel I may gain some insight. This book didn't really provide that, but WOW did I experience a great deal. There was a lot of wrong in this book, but it was laced with truth and an innocent girl who longed to be touched and loved for who she was... Picture The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow, is the story about a small bird who fell from the sky- spotted by a boy who's destiny was to protect it. Rachel, the daughter of a black, military man and a white Danish woman was the bird. This is her story. And yes, she did fall from the sky! This book was sweet, beautiful, enraging, honest, churlish and full of curiosity. It tells how Rachel dealt with going from being Rachel to being a girl who's not white, but not enough black to be black. She was caught in-between two worlds who didn't know how to deal with her. Her Father was afraid to be involved because of the tragedy- which I won't tell, due to it being a SPOILER! and a grandmother who did her best to erase everything in her the made her 'special'. Her grandmother loved that she was special, but hated the parts that made her special (her long hair and blue eyes). Durrow shared Rachel's story by sharing a few others as well. In her mother's words, her mother's employer & some-what friend, Rachel's father and the boy, bird watcher, "Brick" or James. What you walk away with is a superb telling of life and how no matter what background one derives, all any one person truly desires is to be loved and cared for. The characters were carefully carved and so honest and transparent, you feel you truly know each one. You grew just as angry or disgusted by Doug's actions or Grandma's words. You loved Aunt Loretta as much as Rachel and you appreciated Doug. This book is one I'll never forget. No matter where you are from or where you've been, you will find this book to be a treasure in your collection. I'm on to the next read. Have a great day! Ratings: 5 of 5 specs *What Was Mine is next. **Book is from my personal library. http://bit.ly/TheGirlWhoFellFromtheSky
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really. How many amongst us could not write a biography to parallel or excell this fiction. Sorry. Sad bit of literature
AmyKyle More than 1 year ago
The story was sad. But I could see how one event led to the next. It was interesting how the two main children came back together as young adults. However, I did not like how the story just stopped...no real ending. I would not recommend this book.
CherSpe 5 months ago
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born_again_bookworm More than 1 year ago
This was a good, quick read. I found the story & characters interesting, and really liked how the two main characters' paths crossed in the end. I enjoyed the author's writing style and would be interested in reading more from her!
grandmapenny More than 1 year ago
Interesting story, well drawn out.
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I read this novel for my book club group. We're no strangers to difficult books and this was no exception. Though the language of the text is simple the context is anything but. It's often a struggle to read this book and not feel somehow bogged down by its content. But it's worth it. The novel is moving and makes you think, if you can get through how emotionally painful it can sometimes be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A story of what happens when the paths of people searching for their idenity and place in this world intersect
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