One of my reading goals this year is to read more books by authors of color. I recently learned of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow. The novel reads well and quickly, but don’t let that fool you. The subject matter is multi-layered. I have never read a novel where sadness and heartache was written so beautifully. I make the novel sound heavy, but reading it doesn’t feel that way.
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is about Rachel who at a young age moves in with her grandmother, whom she barely knows. She is the only survivor of a family tragedy involving her mother and siblings. Her father’s whereabouts are unknown. She grew up thinking she was Danish like her mother. After moving to her grandmother’s home, she learns to assume a new identity: black. Black like her father. Black like her grandmother. She becomes a new girl. She learns to hide the white Danish part of her in order to fit into her life. The only thing Rachel cannot hide are her blue eyes. She’s a survivor in more ways than one.
The story is told from different viewpoints but most of it is Rachel’s experience growing up and learning how to “act black.” The other voices give readers bits and pieces of Rachel’s story before we meet her. Before she fell off a building. Before she fell from the sky. While the other characters give us the border to the puzzle of the tragic deaths of her family, only Rachel can fill in the blanks for us. She can only tell the truth when she’s ready.
I read this novel in one day. Never has my heart ached more for a character than for Rachel’s. Durrow captures the hurt and confusion without embellishment but Rachel’s feelings are never simple. Growing up and exploring one’s identity is never easy, but Rachel’s journey is even more complex because she is biracial.
I have a feeling that Durrow had plenty of personal experiences to draw from for her novel. Durrow’s family background is similar to Rachel’s. Durrow is “only daughter of an African-American enlisted Air Force man and a white Danish woman.” Read Heidi Durrow’s full bio on her website.
Have you read The Girl Who Fell from the Sky or other books about growing up mixed race?