Monday, December 27, 2010

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky / by Heidi W. Durrow

The biological daughter of a black American GI stationed in Germany and a Danish mother, Rachel Morse is still a child when she arrives to live with her grandmother and auntie in Portland, OR. She's an orphan now. Her grandmother's become her sole guardian following the disappearance of her father and the tragic death of her mother. They make the best of it though in their modest but happy home. Grandma, Aunt Loretta and Rachel get along well, stick up for one another and face trials as a family. It's just out in the world that things are tricky. Rachel's always known she's different, but its the kids at school who make sure just how much she knows it. A biracial girl with light skin and blue eyes, Rachel's the subject of endless taunts from the other, predominately black classmates. It's other women too, grown women from the community who more subtly make note of Rachel's physical distinctions. Her looks can't hide her vivacious personality and Rachel can't help but treat others with kindness. But just being nice can't turn enemies into friends, especially when fonder attention from male classmates compound her peers animosity and generally confuse the situation further.
The Girl Who Fell From The Sky was one of the better breakthrough novels of the year. And it's not hard to see why. It's a brilliant expose on race, identity and conflict, examining the world from a child's eyes but also from the perspective of others involved in the oddly arranged caste system of mixed race individuals. Rachel is a great protagonist, but Durrow does the wise thing by paying close attention to the peripheral characters, even ones removed from the central story who observe many of the same circumstances yet in a different, more subtly reserved light. If the novel has a weakness, it's that it can't hide from the truth, and likewise from conflict. At the beginning all is known is that Rachel's father has abandoned her and that her mother has had a fatal accident. But as the narrative weaves together the missing pieces of just what happened, things become more sinister as the real message of the story deftly comes to the forefront, exploiting a tragic flaw in our society. (FIC DURROW)

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