The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads overview of book:
This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white. In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, here is a portrait of a young girl - and society's ideas of race, class, and beauty.
Although I've been hearing a lot of buzz about this book, I intentionally avoided reading any reviews before picking it up myself. This novel was winner of Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded for serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. And, kin my opinion, this book is a well deserved winner of that prize. In fact, this is a really special little book that I really enjoyed reading. It had everything that a good, compelling book should offer to a reader.
First of all, Heidi Durrow does an excellent job in the writing of the novel. The prose is sparse and pointed which really adds to the overall feel of the novel. In addition, the chapters and their alternating voices were an excellent way to unfold the story. The unfolding of the story is a critical part of why I enjoyed it so much. Durrow kept me intrigued by slowly giving me bits of interesting information but not truly tying it all together until the end of the novel. As I spent more and more time with each of the characters, I was amazed at how well she gave each of them life and made them jump off of the page.
However, beyond all of that, what is really special about this book is the underlying social issues that it addresses through the story. By interweaving the character's experiences of race and gender with the story, Durrow was able to highlight those issues very effectively without EVER coming off as preachy. The themes of racial identity and gender identity were really fascinating to me and gave me a great deal to think about. It made me look a bit deeper into the ways we view and approach race and gender in our every day lives. I felt that Durrow's novel gives the reader an opportunity to view a variety of viewpoints and perspectives on racial and gender identity in a fresh way. In the end, I feel that Durrow did an excellent job at creating a novel gives the reader a really good modern coming of age story while also providing the reader with relevant social commentary on issues that deserve more attention.
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