I have mixed feelings on Heidi Durrow’s debut novel, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. On the positive side, Durrow tells a story through Rachel, an amalgam of a real life victim of tragedy and the author herself, that I’ve certainly never heard before. However, certain problems in execution ultimately left me glad to be finished.
The book begins outside of a hospital in Portland, Oregon, where twelve-year-old Rachel Morse has been released after a devastating accident that has left her mother and two siblings dead. Rachel, now living with her paternal grandmother (the father’s story is a mystery to Rachel initially but is slowly revealed as the novel moves forward), is left to sort out the meaning of the tragedy as well as her own identity, complicated by her half-African-American and half-Danish background. Aided by a cast of supporting characters, Rachel ultimately reaches the conclusion that her identity cannot be defined by her race. Instead, she triumphantly embraces the concept that she is the embodiment of a unique story that makes her an individual.
While The Girl Who Fell From the Sky offers a welcome new perspective on race and identity, for me, the novel was ultimately spoiled due to its disjointed form and flat tone. By offering perspectives from four different characters, a technique I usually like quite a bit, I felt that the novel skipped through time and space too quickly for me to engage with any particular episode. Similarly disengaging for me was the tone. The short, declarative sentences unfortunately left me feeling disconnected from the characters and their stories.
Though I found The Girl Who Fell From the Sky disappointing in some ways, I fully believe this is a story worth telling. Rachel, Brick, Laronne and Nella each add to a narrative that ultimately offers the reader a method of examining his/her own identity. For this reason, I look forward to hearing others’ impressions of this book.