The name Heidi Durrow first popped onto my radar when I first came across the festival she founded, Mixed Remixed; an annual festival to celebrate and discuss mixed race people and experiences. Already, I was intrigued by the festival’s mission, and while learning more about it, I quickly learned of how in 2010, Durrow released her debut novel, “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.” Saddened yet intrigued by the synopsis, and also knowing that I hadn’t read a book yet that dealt with being of white and black ancestry, I decided to read it.
11-year-old Rachel suddenly finds herself the sole survivor of a family tragedy. After time spent in intensive care, she moves from the Midwest to the northwest to live with her grandmother, bringing with her the language of her mother and questions regarding the whereabouts of her father. Going through her adolescence in a black community, Rachel comes to terms for the first time with being mixed race, as well as the circumstances that led to the day her life tragically changed forever.
There is a strong story here that is not often told. “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky” takes place in the 1980’s, and Durrow really goes in depth on how race issues were like even then. She also made the circumstances really poignant of suddenly living in an environment where people look like you, but not entirely, and as a result, people around may give people like Rachel a hard time for it. Her thoughts about it all, as well as about her family dynamics, are almost poetic in a way.
The way the story reveals exactly what happened on the day of the family tragedy unfolds in a similar way as Celeste Ng’s “Everything I Never Told You;” via flashbacks and different points of view. Some chapters focus on Rachel adjusting to life at her new home, while others touch on the young boy who lived a floor down from where Rachel previously lived, the woman who was her mother’s former employer, and the entries from her mother’s diary.
This is one of the aspects about the novel that I found a little sloppy, for the transitions in between the chapters were not well executed. That is why it got a little confusing for me to be reading chapters in the past, before bouncing back to the present time with Rachel.
As far as character development goes, I didn’t really care for Rachel’s naive outlook. While as an 11-year-old at the beginning of the story, I accepted it more or less, but it didn’t seem as wise of her to maintain that same mentality as she got older. It’s because of that mindset that led to me shaking my head at some decisions she made at certain points in the novel, thinking that she can do better and she should know better.
There were also plot maneuvers Durrow made that I didn’t see the point in, like the unexpected passing of another family member, the hardcore life Brick led as an adolescent that I didn’t really see a reason for him to get into, and a character, who shall remain nameless here, who appeared to not contribute anything to the overall story.
I also found the ending to be a little rushed, for I felt there was space to set it a little better than how it wound up being.
So yes, the novel is a little unsteady, but keep in mind that this is Durrow’s debut novel. What kept me engaged was the story, for as I mentioned before, it touched on a subject that is so very important is discuss. If you can mind the flaws, then “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky” is a book worth reading at least once.