The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Dur­row, Al­go­nquin Books of Chapel Hill/Work­man Pub­lish­ing, 264 pages

Pasatiempo - - in Other Words -

At first glance, Heidi W. Dur­row’s de­but novel, The Girl Who Fell From

the Sky, seems like a typ­i­cal com­ing-of-age story stuffed with so­cial com­men­tary. But in this par­tic­u­lar telling, the dif­fer­ence is in the finer de­tails of the story.

The girl is Rachel Morse, and the reader is in­tro­duced to her world af­ter a tragic ac­ci­dent leaves her or­phaned and adopted by her pa­ter­nal grand­mother. As a child, Rachel doesn’t fully com­pre­hend the so­cial im­pli­ca­tions of her mixed Dan­ish and African Amer­i­can her­itage un­til she moves into a pre­dom­i­nantly black neigh­bor­hood in Port­land, Ore­gon, to live with her grand­mother. While Rachel ex­pe­ri­ences alien­ation from most of her class­mates, she finds a niche for her­self aca­dem­i­cally. And as she re­counts fond mem­o­ries of her mother, or mor (in Dan­ish), Rachel hardly men­tions the in­ci­dent that led to her death, and it is only through the per­spec­tives of a young neigh­bor, Rachel’s dis­tressed fa­ther, and her late mother’s di­ary en­tries that clues are re­vealed.

The story, though not an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, is based on true events. Dur­row shares the same in­ter­ra­cial iden­tity as her main char­ac­ter, and she al­lows Rachel room to grow through the in­her­ent ob­sta­cles of be­ing nei­ther white nor black “enough” for her class­mates and even her grand­mother.

Dur­row’s de­scrip­tion of Rachel is one of a prodi­giously gifted young girl who makes straight A’s, minds au­thor­ity fig­ures to a fault, and with­stands more than her fair share of child­hood ridicule. Her grand­mother warns that no man wants a woman so in­tel­li­gent, and Rachel’s aca­demic ex­cel­lence could be seen as a form of re­bel­lion. How­ever, Rachel main­tains her fa­cade of obe­di­ence longer than nec­es­sary, and this mere trace of fal­li­bil­ity leaves the reader with lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to sym­pa­thize with her. It is only near the end of the book that she fi­nally takes a swing at one of her ver­bally abu­sive class­mates and suc­cumbs to sex­ual temp­ta­tion in an at­tempt to find a sense of af­fec­tion that was lost with the death of her mother and sib­lings.

Though Dur­row brings an au­then­tic, even po­etic, voice to the story, what makes it stand apart are the lay­ers of con­flict that the main char­ac­ter must strug­gle with to find com­fort and con­fi­dence in her own skin. It’s more than just ridicule from class­mates or harsh ex­pec­ta­tions from her grand­mother— in the ab­sence of her mother and sib­lings, and with a fa­ther who aban­doned her, Rachel has no im­me­di­ate fam­ily to help her make sense of her iden­tity.

The most im­por­tant change that Rachel needs to make is to em­brace her­self as an in­di­vid­ual in­stead of fix­at­ing on an iden­tity she thinks is de­fined by a cer­tain eth­nic­ity, and though this res­o­lu­tion is hinted at to­ward the end of the book, it isn’t fully re­al­ized. But to help her make peace with who she is now, she must first ac­cept the truth about her mem­o­ries of a vi­o­lent past. By the end of the book, she is on her way.

— Amy Kuhre Heidi W. Dur­row reads from and signs “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” at 6 p.m. Fri­day, March 12, at Col­lected Works Book­store, 202 Gal­is­teo St., 988-4226.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.