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by Heidi W. Durrow
Reviewed by Barbara Steeg

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, the haunting and beautifully written debut novel from Heidi W. Durrow, is much more than a simple coming of age story. It delves into a host of serious issues including race, class, love, loss and acceptance.

The heroine, Rachel, was born in Germany to a Danish mother and a black American father. After a tragic event that destroyed her family, she is sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Oregon. There she confronts a society that wants to define her identity, and those of her various family members, in the most narrow and hurtful terms. In school, Rachel learns that in America, in the 1980s, race still matters a great deal. For the first time, she begins to categorize people based on their skin color. She describes what she has learned about race in school:

I am light‒skinned‒ed. That's what the other kids say. And I talk white. I think new things when they say this. There are a lot of important things I didn't know about. I think Mor didn't know either. They tell me it is bad to have ashy knees. They say stay out of the rain so my hair doesn't go back. They say white people don't use washrags, and I realize now, at Grandma's, I do. They have a language I don't know but I understand. I learn that black people don't have blue eyes. I learn that I am black. I have blue eyes. I put all these new facts into the new girl.

At the same time, Rachel is grieving the loss of her immediate family and struggling to make sense of her past. The fleeting and subjective nature of memories is one of the themes explored in this novel. Rachel desperately wants to hold on to her memories of her beloved mother, Mor. Because her mother was white and Danish-speaking, Rachel is unable to relate her memories meaningfully to those around her, and realizes she is at greater risk of their being altogether lost or distorted. Her memories of the events leading up to the tragedy have already been distorted, and part of Rachel's maturing process is when she gains the courage to face the horrendous truth of her mother's final act of love. Ultimately, she accepts both of her parents' limitations, and discovers that love is not always enough to protect one from pain.

With its sensitive portrayal of interracial, immigrant and class issues, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky recalls Sigrid Nunez' A Feather on the Breath of God. Using clear prose and a captivating story, Heidi W. Durrow weaves a beautiful and highly memorable tale. I look forward to future novels from this vibrant new voice in literature.