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Book Review: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow

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The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow is an amazing story of the dual evils of racial discrimination and addiction. The main character Rachel Morse is herself a duality, both the blue-eyed child of a Danish woman and the brown-skinned daughter of an African-American G.I. with a penchant for drink. Her parents met when he was stationed in Germany with the Army in the 1970's. Trying to keep the children safe, Rachel's mother flees with Rachel and her two siblings to Chicago, but before a year is out, she and the children have fallen from the roof of her apartment. Only Rachel survives.

“Brick” (a name he has given himself), a boy from the apartment building, witnesses the family's fall. Just 11 years old and the son of a drug-addicted single mother, he lies to a newspaper reporter and says he saw someone else on the roof that day. When the police come asking for Brick to check on his story, he is afraid and runs away. Having heard that Rachel has gone to Portland, Oregon, to live with her grandmother, he heads in that direction, hoping to find her.

In Portland, Rachel recovers fully, except for losing the hearing in one ear, but she struggles to grow up in the house of her African-American grandmother and also remember she is half Danish. Hers is a powerful tale of the effect of race relations in America, which her mother, a European, had not grasped and ultimately couldn't handle. Everyone in Rachel's life is struggling with addiction as she struggles with the trauma of her fall.

I can't tell if this is an accurate portrayal of how a child would deal with a trauma such as Rachel suffered, but it somehow does not resonate like the adults' stories. And in an unsatisfying turn of events, the book ends with Rachel on the cusp of adulthood, the reader not knowing what she will make of herself. Nonetheless, the story is beautifully written and constructed like a mystery – did she jump or was she pushed? Will Rachel remember what happened? Will Brick find her? The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is well worth reading to find out.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.