152 of 161 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2010
Rachel, the daughter of a Danish woman and African American G.I., grew up in Germany. With her light brown skin and blue eyes, Rachel did not see herself as anything but her parents' child. When tragedy strikes her family after moving to America, Rachel moves in with her paternal grandmother. In Portland, Rachel feels alienated from her family and schoolmates, unable to fit into categories of white or black, and she struggles with memories of her mother. Although told mostly from Rachel's point of view, the novel also follows Rachel's father, her mother's boss, and a young boy who witnessed the family tragedy as Rachel attempts to discover who she is beyond others' labels.
Durrow has created a unique story that combines a young woman's search for identity with a family's history of shame and secrets. The novel begins with Rachel narrating her move to Portland and is told in stark, simple prose. In Portland, Rachel becomes acutely aware of her lack of belonging. She is "light-skinned-ed;" she "talk[s]" white" and can't help but judge her grandmother for her lack of formal English. She fails to fall into pre-established categories.
Meanwhile, pieces of Rachel's parents' history are filled in. Both parents are filled with shame for their inability to protect their children, although their shame comes from different sources. Rachel's mother exemplifies a woman unable to to accept or actively reject that many Americans do not see her children as her own and see them only as a skin color.
The detachment of the first part of the novel distanced me as a reader and felt slow, but as Rachel grew, I grew closer to her and her story. The tragedy piles on thick at times, but the second half of the novel touchingly covers the nuances of Rachel's development: her feelings for her aunt's fiance Drew, her conflicts with her judgmental but well-meaning grandmother, and her relationship with a liberal white college boy. The novel skillfully explores the complexities of racial identity and relationships today.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2010
"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky" tells a story of a family tragedy and survival from the points of view of five interconnected characters. Though the story is in fact very simple, the nonlinear time line, limited narrators, and unconventional sentence structure, give the novel an odd sense of unreality and mystery--an airy elusiveness that keeps readers guessing, working to put the pieces together.
Set in 1980s Portland, OR, the novel opens innocuously with 10-year-old Rachel moving in with her grandmother. It's clear that the move is precipitated by some recent family tragedy, but the exact nature of what has happened remains at first obscure. Rachel's first-person, child's-eye-view narration is absorbing. Bright and perceptive, she eagerly relates the details that strike her as new and curious--her grandmother's unfamiliar speech and special lavender lotion, her aunt Loretta's smooth beauty and "potential lizard," Drew. More reluctantly, she discusses her sense of cultural alienation as the daughter of an African American serviceman and a Danish woman, living in America (and experiencing American racial tensions) for almost the first time. Rachel feels divided from the white girls at school because of her darker skin, alienated from black girls because of her blue eyes and her over-achiever status. She also desperately misses the hybrid Danish-American culture in which she was raised.
Like the best first-person narrators, Rachel tells readers more than she means to, occasionally even more than she herself understands. Gradually, it becomes clear that Rachel's mother and younger siblings recently died in an "accident"--that the whole family fell from the top of a Chicago apartment building where they had been living for most of one summer, leaving Rachel the only survivor.
Interspersed with Rachel's narration are third-person sections following Jamie, a young neighbor boy who witnesses the family's fall, and Laronne, the supervisor at the community college library where Rachel's mother, Nella, had worked during her short stay in Chicago. As the novel progresses, Laronne finds and reads Nella's diaries, while Jamie meets and talks to Rachel's father Roger, creating fourth and fifth narrative strains that also help to fill out the story.
The novel is complicated, not only by the mode of storytelling, but by the themes which populate it--race and class, of course, but also alcoholism and addiction. Imagery of birds and flight and sky and maps also permeates the text, flowing through nearly every section. The effect is striking, artistic, holistic, but also unsubtle.
The climax of the story falls flat, failing to deliver the emotional impact that has been set up, and leaving behind a myriad of loose ends. It's common in novels that aspire to "post modernism" that stories trail off, that life goes on, as it might in the real world, without the neat bows and morals of classical literature, but this is extreme. In the final chapters, it seems, all the characters but two disappear without explanation. It feels rushed, and it feels false. But it's worth keeping in mind that Durrow is still a very young writer. Her prose is astounding, her characterization deep and astute, she just hasn't mastered plot and pacing completely.
67 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Rachel a bi-racial Danish and Black, light skinned with blue eyes black girl is delivered to her black grandmother after her mother, brother and baby sister fall off the roof of their apartment building. Her new neighborhood is surrounded with mostly black children and as far from home as she could end up. Rachel struggles to fit in with her new family and piece together her shattered life. Her coming of age story is contrasted with stories from some of those impacted by the tragedy. Through Rachel's memories and stories from her distant father, her mother, her mother's employer, and a young boy who witnessed the tragedy, we slowly piece together what happened on the roof as well as more family secrets that contributed to it. We also see how this event ultimately shapes Rachel's life.
The mystery at the center of the story is slowly unraveled as the book shifts amongst narrators, perspective and time. Instead of confusing or irritating its audience, the novel's structure only adds to its power. This sad and compelling plot is further credited by a strinkingly unique voice.
The Girl who Fell from the Sky is sure to be one of the best books of 2010.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2010
"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky" is more a book for teens than an adult novel. It concerns a biracial girl who is sent to Portland, Ore. to live with her black grandmother after the tragic and puzzling deaths of her mother and siblings. While the subject matter is always ripe for discussion, I had hoped for something meatier that was part mystery, part thoughtfut treatment of race relations. Intead, I found the book to be a tad juvenile and fell flat when the mystery did not pan out. It was also annoying that the outlook changes from chapter to chapter depending on which character is telling the story. It was ok but I was sorry I chose it for my book club selection.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I really wanted to like this book. The author grew up in Portland, the story is set here, and it deals with the issue of race - all of which are important to me. However the book was disjointed and the issues of race that Durrow brings up, especially about the challenges and problems of being bi-racial, have been written about in a much more powerful and beautiful manner than they are here.
The story revolves around Rachel, a half Danish, half African-American girl whose mother committed suicide and now lives with her paternal grandmother. As the book progresses, the details of her family become apparent as it also becomes apparent that Rachel doesn't really fit in with any community - she is "too white" for the African-Americans, and "too dark" for the whites. A similar theme is addressed in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is written in much more fluid and beautiful prose. Regretfully, I can't recommend.
72 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2010
Seeped in racial tension, The Girl who Fell from the Sky follows a group of characters directly and indirectly involved in an incident where an entire family falls to their death from a rooftop.
Only one young girl survives - and the majority of the story follows her as she tries to make sense of her life after the tragedy.
The narrative of this novel swings somewhat wildly, providing us with insight into a variety of characters in what I can only describe as a semi-chronological order. The main source of tension comes from the question of whether the family was originally thrown from the rooftop by someone else or whether the protagonist's mother took them down.
Personally The Girl who Fell from the Sky is not my kind of novel. The attempts to be literary seem too obvious, and the lack of real drama isn't adequately replaced by character development or philosophical realisations.
Overall the novel was an easy read and had some genuinely touching moments, but between the unreliable narrative structure and heavy handed symbolism I'd put this one back on the shelf.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2010
I've heard a lot about this being a "social consciousness" novel, but I didn't really feel like it was. Confusion about being mixed-race? Sure. America is more racist than Europe? So I'm told, although I'm not sure I believe it. Is that what was meant? It never takes a front seat.
This felt more like a novel about a lonely, confused, girl seeking an identity--as an individual even more than as a mixed-race person--through idolizing the mother she lost before she was old enough to see her through older, wiser, eyes. Nella is such an vague presence in the novel, and what we know of her is so pathetic, that it's difficult to understand how Rachel could look to her as a source of strength. She seems like a naïve, immature, weak woman who leaned too hard on men and alcohol when her children needed her to stand on her own legs. I suppose there are more than enough real women in the world to justify the character, but it's not exactly inspiring, and it doesn't follow that Rachel should look to her memory for support. (Somehow, the revelation that she drank doesn't feel right. She seems too childlike and sheltered to have been an alcoholic.)
It's difficult to tell, or maybe to believe, what identity Rachel finally finds. It seems as if she turns into a pot-smoking brat whose declared identity is "Nella's daughter," which makes no sense because she's also Roger's daughter, Grandma's granddaughter, etc. An identity should be more than the sum of its parts; that I am my parents' daughter is part of my identity but it is not what makes me unique.
As a lesser irritation: There are too many pretty people. Everyone we are supposed to like is beautiful, exotic, talented, and classy, regardless of their upbringing, or lack of it. It's unimaginative and tiresome.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The premise of this book, the story of a biracial girl, had me intrigued as I have two biracial daughters. After finishing the book, it isn't one I feel that I should save for them to read later on. I wasn't compelled to read the book at every moment. It was just an okay book, the story seemed too disjointed for me, going back and forth in time and changing characters. I didn't feel that the main character, Rachel, was fully explored. I didn't have anything invested in her or anyone else. It was kind of like reading a newspaper story about a tragic incident, but not really knowing what was behind it all and why it happened. It wasn't a bad book by any stretch, but I suppose I just expected more and it wasn't there for me.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2010
This wonderful book is the story of a young girl, Rachel, who is a survivor of a family tragedy. It follows her life as she grows up in a world in which she is unsure of where she fits. Her mother was white and her father black, and she struggles to find her place in a world where she feels she doesn't quite fit in anywhere. This is of course a common feeling among adolescent girls, but in Rachel's case it is compounded by being bi-racial.
Rachel moves across the United States to live with her grandmother and aunt who are black, and who supplant her mother, who was white, as the main female influences in her life. She is exposed to a new way of looking at life and looking at herself.
This was a well-written, moving book that will have special resonance with anyone who struggles with the issues related to being biracial, or who simply is searching for their place in the world.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This book is about tragedy, resilience, and self. How do you bounce back and move forward when life as you know it no longer exists? You are thrust into a world where you don't fit in; to try to make your new life bearable, it's easier to fade into the background instead of standing out.
There are too many words floating in my head that describes how much this book affected me. I related to Rachel. I didn't lose my family to a terrible tragedy. I'm not biracial. But I know what it feels like not to fit in in your own community. I know what it feels like to be seen as not "black enough" because you don't act like what is deemed as a "typical black" person. I know what it's like to be ridiculed and teased because you talk "white", had white friends and got good grades. I never fit into the mold of what a black kid should be.
I absolutely loved this book! I related to Rachel's struggle with racial identity and fitting in. There were times while I was reading that I thought this could have been about me. (There is one part where Rachel cuts off all of her hair so that she won't appear so different. I've done this; I continue to do this as an adult). Everyone feels like they don't fit in somewhere. Rachel doesn't fit in with blacks because of her light skin and blue eyes. But she also doesn't fit in with whites because she's not light enough and has "nappy" hair. She's caught in the middle of two worlds that don't see her as one of "them". As a reader, I felt for Rachel and understood her struggle to fit in. You don't have to be bi-racial to understand what Rachel is going through. Towards the end of the book, we learn more about that faithful day on top of the roof. Let's just say my mouth was hanging open in shock. I didn't want the book to end because I wanted to know if Rachel was going to finally be okay. The reader is left not knowing. But I'm hoping that she finds her way to self-acceptance.