Review: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow

>>Published: January 2010

>>Finally got around to it: March 2011

When he finally reached the courtyard, he saw that his bird was not a bird at all. His bird was a boy and a girl and a mother and a child.

The mother, the girl, the child. They looked like they were sleeping, eyes closed, listless. The baby was still in her mother’s arms, a gray sticky porridge pouring from the underside of her head. The girl was heaped on top of the boy’s body, a bloody helpless pillow. And yet there was an old mattress, doughy from rain, just ten feet from the bird-boy’s right arm, which was folded like a wing beneath him.

***

Heidi Durrow’s debut—winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction—tells the story of a mixed-race family in America in the 1980s; of the Dutch mother of several half-black, half-white children, and her inability to understand and accept without fear the divisive racial issues that plagued—and still plague—such families.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is told from several perspectives, but the story is Rachel’s. She is the one who survived the nine-storey fall that claimed the remaining lives of her family, save for her father, who feared she would be better off without him in her life.

Thematically transposing themes addressed in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Durrow addresses Rachel’s need to make sense of the world around her as she learns what it means to belong to two worlds, yet feel at home in neither. Throughout the book she struggles to feel accepted by her grandmother, who seeks to readily condemn Rachel’s mother for her suspected suicidal actions; various boyfriends—or boys that would take that mantle only so long as it suits their desires; the girls at school, who look at her and would rather see her whiteness and condemn her for being only a part of what they are.

The mystery surrounding the fall from the rooftop tracks through the entire book, but it is not the novel’s core. It is what encourages Rachel to examine her history, the plagues of drunkenness and self-destruction that she fears will be hers to inherit, and to begin to understand the world her mother came from, and what a stark and unforgiving contrast it bore to the world she entered into when she fell in love with Rachel’s father, Roger.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is an honest, open wound of a book, addressing in clean, somewhat sparse writing the difficulties faced by a young girl in America growing up with ties to socially divergent backgrounds—a combination still unaccepted by many. However, it also maintains a direct enough style to be approachable by all age groups. Heidi Durrow has written a beautiful gem of a book that, with any luck, will find its way into high school classes around North America alongside The Bluest Eye and To Kill a Mockingbird. It shares a great deal with the aforementioned titles, but still manages to carve a path of its own.

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