I was drawn to this book because it won the Bellwether Prize. If Barbara Kingsolver thinks it’s good, then I’m guessing it’s probably good. Even without the accolades, I think this book would have done well, because it’s just fantastic.
Rachel is a young girl, who has just moved to Portland to live with her grandmother, her father’s mother. She hasn’t seen her father in a very long time, but her grandmother and Aunt Loretta take her in and make her welcome. Her life in Portland is very different than her old life. Rachel is beautiful and normally, that would help a girl make friends, but the girls in Rachel’s school don’t like her because she is “light-skinned-ed.” The black kids don’t like her because she’s part white and the white kids don’t like her because she’s part black and that makes for a pretty lonely life for Rachel. She takes the multitude of hurts and puts them in an imaginary blue bottle inside her.
What those kids don’t know is that Rachel has suffered something much greater than those taunts. Her mother pushed her and her brother and sister off the roof of their apartment building and then she jumped. Or that’s the way some people tell it. There are a few possible scenarios for what happened. As Rachel explains:
I don’t know if the true story about Anthony Miller or about the day on the roof or about any story you could think of matters. If there is no one else to tell another side – the only story that can be told is the story that becomes true. (ARC p. 173)
Heidi Durrow was inspired to write this novel based on an article she saw in a newspaper. She was intrigued by the girl who survived the ordeal, but was never able to find out much about what happened to her, so she created her own story for what happened to her. Durrow uses that story as a platform to explore issues of race and how what seem like throwaway taunts to some have much broader implications for others. It’s hard to talk intelligently about this aspect of the story without giving things away, but I’ll just say that Durrow does an impressive job of talking about race. I felt that she really hits a nerve without ever sounding preachy or didactic.
I felt an emotional attachment to some of Durrow’s characters. Rachel was someone I thought I had pegged, but she never seemed to do what I thought she would. I guess that’s how she manages to be someone whose heart has broken in a hundred pieces and is still a survivor. My favorite character was Brick, son of an addict and prostitute, Brick is a would-be ornithologist and book thief with his own version of the story.
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky has all the makings of a classic, I look forward to reading more books by Heidi Durrow.