four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-The Girl Who Fell from the SkyHeidi W. Durrow is a native of Portland, Oregon, and a graduate of Stanford, Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, and Yale Law School. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is her first novel.

The Story: In the 1980s, 11-year-old Rachel Morse is sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Portland. Raised mostly overseas by her Danish mother and African American father, she is the only survivor from a mysterious tragedy that resulted in the deaths of her mother and younger siblings. Rachel doesn't quite fit into her grandmother's predominantly black neighborhood: her light brown skin, striking blue eyes, and bookish ways instantly brand her an outsider. As she learns to adjust to her new surroundings and navigate the perils of adolescence, she must also come to terms with her family's sad, complex history.
Algonquin Books. 256 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 9781565126800

Oregonian 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Simply put, Durrow has written a beautiful novel. There is pain in it, but there is a great deal of love as well." Katie Schneider

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"From its opening lines--‘You my lucky piece,' Grandma says. ... Her hand is wrapped around mine like a leash'--Heidi W. Durrow pulls us into her stunning first novel, a moving story encircling us as firmly as that protective grandmotherly grip." Heller McAlpin

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Told in alternating narratives, with Rachel's voice the most prominent, this is at times a painful book to read. ... But Rachel's growing awareness, particularly set against her poor mother's innocence, keeps the reader in thrall." Clea Simon

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Durrow fashions a complex, serious novel of interracial life in America. ... [T]he novel makes both gripping and instructive reading." Anthony Bukoski

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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." Lisa Page

Critical Summary

Durrow fashions a classic fish-out-of-water tale in her brilliant debut, which some compare to Toni Morison's The Bluest Eye in its exploration of race and identity. It comes as no surprise that The Girl Who Fell from the Sky was awarded the 2008 Bellwether Prize, the award founded by author Barbara Kingsolver to support literature of social responsibility. This is certainly not an easy read, with each chapter told from a different character's viewpoint with a "Rashomon quality that builds tension around the ... mystery," and readers may have to schedule some time for emotional recovery (Washington Post). However, Durrow's novel is ultimately a powerful and ultimately uplifting work of fiction.