Tuesday 8 May 2012

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi Durrow

Published in the UK in April 2010 by OneWorld Publications, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky is Heidi Durrow's first novel.

Rachel is the new girl.  Rachel is biracial and is living with her Grandmother after a terrible tragedy back in Chicago, of which Rachel was the only survivor.   

The author, Heidi Durrow is the daughter of a Danish mother and an African-American father, just like Rachel, and it is clear that she has drawn expertly from her own experiences when writing Rachel's story.
Set in the 1980s, and with a theme of racial identity, this is an intelligently written and very moving story.   

Chapters are narrated by various voices, those of Rachel herself; Brick - a young boy who witnessed the tragedy, Roger - Rachel's estranged Father, and Laronne - the employer of Rachel's mother.  

Also interspered throughout the book are parts of Nella's (Rachel's mother) diary.   

These different voices and the writings of Nella give different views and reasons for the terrible event that happened that day in Chicago - when a Mother and her three young children fell from the roof of a multi-storied building.
For the first time in her life, eleven-year old Rachel realises that she is either 'black' or 'white', she finds herself under intense scrutiny from the people in her Grandmother's community, almost an oddity, with her mocha coloured skin and her clear blue eyes.  

Rachel also has a strength of character and a level of intelligence that could almost be viewed as a hardness by others, she has to deal with her own coming-of-age alongside the pain of losing her family and trying to deal with who and what she is.
Rachel and Brick are amazing characters.   Brick (aka Jamie) lived below Rachel and her family in the aparment block in Chicago.  He is a quiet boy, neglected by his drug-addicted mother and abused by her many visitors.  

As the story unfolds, Brick matures too quickly and becomes a man long before he should do.  There remains a gentleness and vulnerability to Brick despite his experiences of life and people.    Rachel, on the other hand is a bit of an enigma.  She is often confused and seems innocent, but has a spark to her that manifests itself in some behaviours that lead her God-fearing Grandmother to despair of her.    

Rachel's beautiful Aunt Loretta and her boyfriend Drew are the characters that have the most impact on Rachel and will guide the course of the rest of her life. 
This is an amazing debut novel which was the winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, and quite rightly so.   

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