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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow, 2010, * * *

Durrow's debut novel draws from her own upbringing as the brown-skinned, blue-eyed daughter of a Danish woman and a black G.I. to create Rachel Morse, a young girl with an identical heritage growing up in the early 1980s. After a devastating family tragedy in Chicago. Subsequent to the event, she goes to live with the paternal grandmother she's never met, in a decidedly black neighborhood in Portland, Ore. Suddenly, at 11, Rachel is in a world that demands her to be either white or black. As she struggles with her grief and the haunting, yet-to-be-revealed truth of the tragedy, her appearance and intelligence place her under constant scrutiny.  Although I have heard people say that this is a "social consciousness" novel about being mixed-race, that is not what I felt. It seemed more to be 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 really know her. It's difficult to tell, or maybe to believe, what identity Rachel finally finds and the first part of the novel felt very slow and distant. The second half of the novel touchingly covers the nuances of Rachel's development: her feelings, her conflicts with her judgmental but well-meaning grandmother, and her relationship with a liberal white college boy. The novel explores the complexities of racial identity and relationships in general but still appeared to be more of a “young readers” book.

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