The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010)
"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 a Chicago rooftop.
"Forced to move to a new and strange city, with her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, startling 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. Raised by her mother to think of herself as white, Rachel is now expected to 'act black.' And all the while, she keeps asking herself why she has to be defined by her skin, and whether labels say more about who she is, or more about a world that attempts to brand her as black or white."
"You my lucky piece," Grandma says.
Not quite as clear and gripping all the way through as the first few chapters start out, but nonetheless an outstanding book. It opens in 1982, at which point the not-quite-teenaged Rachel has recently moved to Portland with her grandmother and much younger and warmer Aunt Loretta, and is still stung with fresh grief compounded by her new guardians' refusal to even mention her mother's name. We learn, in fairly short order, that Nella (Rachel's mother) had left not just her abusive husband, but the unique insularity of military base life ... only to find that Chicago @ 1980 couldn't quite wrap its brain around a white mother with three seemingly black children. Eventually, her inability to raise and guide them properly under the circumstances led her to jump (or perhaps be pushed) off a rooftop; only Rachel survived.
While the story centers primarily on Rachel, we do get to know other characters to some degree, including Brick, the young man who was fascinated with birds as a child until he saw Rachel's brother Robbie fall to his death, and Drew, Aunt Loretta's mover-and-shaker boyfriend whose influence in Rachel's life far outlasts his relationship with her aunt.
This may be one I'll want to buy and reread; I think there are probably layers of meaning I didn't quite get the first time around. Even so, I still enjoyed it.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.