Friday, February 19, 2010

NEW BOOK! Review: Falling From the Sky

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Heidi W. Durrow's debut novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is proving a little difficult for me to review. It's only been on the shelves a few days but has already made quite an impression on the publishing world, thanks in part to winning The 2008 Bellwether Prize, an award established by Barbara Kingsolver that recognizes literary fiction addressing issues of social justice.

The story centers around Rachel, a half-Danish, half African-American girl who is the only survivor of family tragedy that takes the lives of her mother and two siblings. With an absent GI father, Rachel moves to Portland, Oregon, to live with her strict African-American grandmother. As a sixth grader, Rachel struggles to define herself when the rest of the world seems comfortable classifying her by race—and an incomplete classification at that, only considering the side of her that is Black. As Rachel grows up, she must work through the complexities of racial identity while maturing into her own person and dealing with her own grief.

This book reads a lot like juvenile fiction, based on the voices from which we hear the story. Most frequently, we hear Rachel's voice as she travels through adolescence, but we also hear from some other characters—Jaimie (aka Brick), a peer of Rachel's; a librarian who was Rachel's mother's supervisor; and Rachel's mother, Nella, through diary entries. The best part is the prose Durrow uses to eloquently and honestly voice the sentiments of the characters. My favorite passage:
"It's easy to smile just to make other people feel better. But when a person fakes happy, it has edges. Regular people may not see, but the people who count, they can see edges and lines where your smile ends and the real you, the sadness (me) or the anger (Grandma), begins."

With chapters that alternated in perspective between participants and observers, Durrow is able to put the reader both inside and outside Rachel's world. I felt that the main character (Rachel) always seemed rather detached, but to a degree, I could feel the reasons for her distance. She's constantly living on the line between what is stereotypically white and what is stereotypically black, so how could she attach herself to anything?

The ending left me a bit unsatisfied and wanting more, but it was a powerful read none the less. Durrow manages to combine stories of both internal and external identity and creates a thoughtful statement on the modern definition of 'race.' It was very hard to put this book down, and I look forward to hearing more from this great new voice in fiction.


Review copy generously provided by the publisher.

4 comments:

Amy said...

I got an ARC of this book and really enjoyed it. Your review is dead-on.

-Amy
Life by Candlelight

jill said...

Great review! This is one of the books on the top of my to-read list.

Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

Great review. I will need to check this one out.

Kathy said...

Liked your review! I have it listed as a book to read!
Thank you!
Kathy