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Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop.

Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief, that she comes to understand how the mystery and tragedy of her mother might be connected to her own uncertain identity.

This searing and heartwrenching portrait of a young biracial girl dealing with society’s ideas of race and class is the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.

Topics: Family, Chicago, Haunting, Debut, Mixed Race People, Race Relations, Heartbreaking, Portland, Oregon, 1980s, Grandmothers, Grief, Suicide, Poverty, Multicultural, and Secrets

Published: Workman eBooks on Jan 11, 2011
ISBN: 9781616200374
List price: $1.99
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A young would-be birdwatcher sees an egret fly past the window of his apartment building. When he runs outside, he sees that it wasn't a bird at all, but a woman and her three children who had tried, vainly, to fly off the building's roof. One of those children survived--Rachel's fall was broken by the crumpled bodies of her mother and siblings. This is Rachel's story. Her mother was Danish; her father African-American. Rachel, both white and black, had never been away from her mother--and now suddenly finds herself in her father's black community in Oregon. This is a story of searching for identity--is Rachel black or white; can she be both? There are many big ideas touched upon here--race, altruism, family, alcoholism, --perhaps too many ideas to fit in one not-so-long book. Told from the point of views of several of the characters (including the diary of the doomed mother), the stories never really hold together as a novel. There are too many coincidences and chance meetings for it to ring true. Also, perhaps too many characters to track in a book this brief. It seems that the author overreached herself, and just tried to do too much.Iread more
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This book's strength is its characters. Just as the main character discovers that everyone isn't as they seem, so too the reader will discover that each character is complex, with secrets and layers to discover all the way until the end. The story is of a young bi-racial girl whose early life in Europe sheltered her from the bigotry and reality of being black in the US South. She faces this reality much more harshly than necessary due to the lack of understanding of her newly discovered black grandmother, who takes her in after her mother dies. Her grandmother only considers her in the context of her blackness (how to take care of her hair, how she should behave..) and she only thinks of herself as like her white mother. When her two halves collide, she struggles to come to terms with who she is and which world she belongs in.read more
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This is a sad but insightful book about the challenges sometimes faced by biracial children, whose parents come from markedly different backgrounds and cultures. It is well worth reading and would be a good candidate for book club discussions.read more
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This is another great "The Girl Who" book though completely different from the Millennium Series. This would be a great book club selection.read more
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The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow is an amazing book and the winner of the 2008 Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Thank you to Algonquin Books for the opportunity to read and review the Advance Reading Copy. With multiple narrators, as well as a variety of plots and subplots, we discover what it feels like to be a young biracial girl in Portland during the early 1980s. Rachel begins her story in Germany where she lives with her Danish mother, her black American father and her younger sister. Returning to the United States, Rachel is the sole survivor of a tragedy in Chicago where her mother and sister die. Rachel must learn to live with her Black paternal grandmother in Oregon. To further confuse the sad yet developing young girl, she faces racist attitudes that nearly crush her spirit. Over time, we learn her history and how she will face her future.Another strong voice in the novel is Jamie - a young black boy who lived in the public housing unit near Rachel in Chicago and actually saw what happened to her family. Jamie faces racial discrimination as well and runs from his mother who is more interested in drugs than her own child. Both young people develop friendships and relationships that both hurt and help them. I thought it was interesting that the author chose to describe Europe as more accepting of biracial relationships and people in general. And to place Rachel in northern and northwestern cities where typically racism is portrayed less negatively.In many ways, this is partly Durrow's own story. On her Web site, she relates that she is biracial and faced many of the same questions as the title character when she was growing up in Oregon.A wonderful book which examines racial attitudes and how far we have to go in mutual understanding in this country.read more
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interesting structure, well written, unsatisfactory endingread more
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This book was great! Yes, it is told from a few different perspectives, but that might be why I liked it so much. I liked knowing what Rachel (the main character) was thinking, and how the other characters tied in with her.read more
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The main character, Rachel, is the daughter of a Danish woman and a black GI giving her unique physical characteristics (blue eyes, light brown skin, light frizzy hair). The majority of this book takes place as Rachel lives with her grandmother (her Dad's mother) in Portland, Oregon during the 70's and 80's (just a guess, no exact date is given that I recall). A great tragedy occurs at the beginning of the book, and it is this event that leaves Rachel to spend the remainder of her childhood with her strict grandmother.My synopsis makes this book sound rather dull, but I'm afraid that's how I perceived it as a whole. For me, there was a huge disconnect between characters, events taking place in their lives, and me - the reader. The characters were not portrayed in a way that made me care for them; there was no emotional link. I picked this book because of the unique perspective it provided on racial tension and being a child of parents with different races, but I did not particularly enjoy the way that this tension was addressed. Maybe, this is because of the realistic portrayal; but, I feel as if it was because I was not fully aquainted with the characters. Heidi Durrow, the author, was a child of a Danish mother and black father, so I don't dare argue with her descriptions of the present racial tension. I just did not become engrossed in what could have been a heart-wrenching novel.Recommendation: Check out other reviews before deciding whether this is for you or not. For me, it missed the mark on character development and portrayal of emotions. Maybe you will see it differently!read more
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The story is very interesting, inventive, involved. It keeps you on your toes and you feel for the main gal, Rachel.....but....the story is told from multiple perspectives, and a lot of them are children. I find both these things a bit annoying. I dont want to give to much away and am glad to have read the back after finishing the book, as I feel it gave too much away even there. But, Rachel is a girl who finds herself living with her grandmother under not very nice circumstances. We basically get these circumstances spelled out to us over the course of the book, and the ultimate answer is delivered late. It is not a thriller or a crime novel, but does a good job in keeping you guessing without feeling like you are being teased with tidbits. I found the writing fairly simple, and not in a good way. It came over as too basic for the subject matter being explored (one of the hurdles of writing from the perspective of youngsters?). There is grief, racism, abandonment, violence and more. At times I found it all a bit gratuitous. But (again), the story itself was compelling enough to carry it for me.read more
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I love novels that are told from different characters' points of view. In The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, the author gives us three alternating narrators. Twelve-year old Rachel has survived a terrible tragedy (well, she has survived physically, at least), and her life and her sense of self change drastically when she is sent to be raised by her grandmother in Portland, Oregon. Jamie, the son of a junkie prostitute, has witnessed the tragedy and becomes obsessed with it. Unbeknownst to her, he visits Rachel in the hospital, where he befriends her father. The man tells him a story and makes him promise to tell it to Rachel one day--a promise that pushes Jamie to leave home and change his identity. The third voice, which we don't begin to hear until later in the novel, is that of Rachel's mother, Nella; we hear her only through her brief but painful diary entries.In Portland, young Rachel finds herself trying to understand not only the events leading up to her mother's tragic decision but her own racial identity--or the lack of it. "Light skinned-ed" with blue eyes, she is the daughter of an African-American soldier and a Danish woman (like Durrow herself). Never before has she had to answer the question, "What are you?" But living with her black grandmother and aunt leads others to answer the question for her, and she struggles with the fact that people expect her to choose to be labelled either black or white rather than to be herself, "a story." Durrow's moving novel is finely written, spare and and at times poetic: images of birds, flying, and falling pervade the narrative, almost acting like a framework. The author merges her personal experiences with those of Rachel, making her character's thoughts and feelings all the more believable. While not a story that I want to say that I "enjoyed," I appreciated its artful telling, its fine characterizations, and its illumination of issues that I hadn't really thought about deeply before.read more
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Growing up biracial. Pulled a lot from her own childhood, apparently, added a great conflict at the center - good example of exploring a personal issue within/around an intriguing plot. I loved the way she wove the stories of two different children together. My copy had an interview with her at the end, was quite interesting to learn she also grew up with a Scandinavian mother.read more
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sad but good; I read this a while ago and don't remember too many details, but I remember liking itread more
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Rachel a bi-racial Danish and Black, light skinned with blue eyes black girl is delivered to her black grandmother after her mother, brother and baby sister fall off the roof of their apartment building. Her new neighborhood is surrounded with mostly black children and as far from home as she could end up. Rachel struggles to fit in with her new family and piece together her shattered life. Her coming of age story is contrasted with stories from some of those impacted by the tragedy. Through Rachel's memories and stories from her distant father, her mother, her mother's employer, and a young boy who witnessed the tragedy, we slowly piece together what happened on the roof as well as more family secrets that contributed to it. We also see how this event ultimately shapes Rachel's life. The mystery at the center of the story is slowly unraveled as the book shifts amongst narrators, perspective and time. Instead of confusing or irritating its audience, the novel's structure only adds to its power. This sad and compelling plot is further credited by a strinkingly unique voice.The Girl who Fell from the Sky is sure to be one of the best books of 2010.read more
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Some of the best fiction published these days comes from smaller presses. Although Algonquin Press of Chapel Hill is a subsidiary of Workman Publishing, it still seems like a small press to me. Their cutting edge fiction, with its thrills and surprises, is most definitely difficult to put down. Amazing arrays of interesting characters, together with masterful prose, have become hallmarks of Algonquin.Heidi W. Durrow has continued the Algonquin tradition of fine fiction with a mesmerizing story, dream-like at times and made from equal parts of recollection and repression of horrific events. She has created a wonderful cast of interesting characters. Each chapter is like a piece in the puzzle. Slowly, the reader makes the outline of the picture, and bit by bit, fills in all the blank spaces.This novel won the Bellwether Prize. Barbara Kingsolver, who founded the Bellwether Prize for the fiction in support of social change, writes on the website, “Fiction has a unique capacity to bring difficult issues to a broad readership on a personal level, creating empathy in a reader’s heart for the theoretical stranger. Its capacity for invoking moral and social responsibility is enormous. Throughout history, every movement toward a more peaceful and humane world has begun with those who imagined the possibilities. The Bellwether Prize seeks to support the imagination of humane possibilities.” Durrow richly deserves The Bellwether Prize.Rachel’s mother, Mor, is a blue-eyed, blonde Danish woman, who met and married her father, Roger, a Black American soldier while he was stationed in Germany. Shortly after a divorce, Mor’s death occurs, and Rachel finds herself caught between two worlds. She leaves Chicago to live with her paternal Grandmother, Doris, who wrenches Rachel from the white world of Mor into a traditional African-American world.The Girl Who Fell from the Sky revolves around Rachel’s attempt to adjust to the changes in her life. She runs into conflicts everywhere – black girls tease her because of her blue eyes; white children tease her because of her hair. But she has friends, especially Brick, who witnessed the “accident” which took Mor’s life. He guards this secret until he can tell Rachel. His story – along with Rachel’s repressed memories – finish the tapestry of this tragic tale.Brick travels across the country to find Rachel. He finally meets up with her in Portland, Oregon, and they become friends before she knows his real identity and what he knows. Durrow writes,"For weeks Brick wondered how to approach Rachel – how to tell the story he’d promised to tell. He often joined her for lunch with Jesse. They would each get a slice of pizza or a sandwich at the deli and then eat in Pioneer Courthouse Square watching people go by.Rachel never talked about herself. When Brick asked her where she lived in Chicago, she said she couldn’t remember. The way she shut off – her eyes went blank; her voice went low – he knew Chicago wasn’t a memory she visited often. He would have to find the right moment to tell her the story he’d promised Roger he’d share." (211)This first novel is so stunning, I can’t wait for Durrow’s next work. Who said books and the novel are dead? As long as Algonquin Press continues to discover new writers and turn out fiction of this quality, readers will have plenty to occupy themselves during those quiet moments when curling up with a book is the only remedy for what ails a body and a mind. Five stars--Jim, 9/7/10read more
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This remarkable novel is based on a true event, which makes it all the more poignant. Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and black father, is the lone survivor of an horrendous family tragedy. She leaves Chicago to live with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Oregon where the issues of her biracial identity continue to plague her. Algonquin Books publishes unique and noteworthy fiction, and this book is no exception.read more
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Very powerful. A little confusing at some points as it goes from character to character. Rachel survives her mother's attempt to kill herself and her children, but does not save her brother Robbie. Her mother throws her brother and sister off the roof and Rachel attempts to jump and land to protect her brother. She survives and they don't. Rachel is a blue eyed mulatto and the stress of her life continues on.read more
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A disturbing book about what a mother does in the name of love and loss and out of hopeless despair. Tragedy fills the life of "the girl who fell from the sky". But also entwined within the fabric of this tale is the identitiy of a mixed race child and the feelings she has coping and dealing with thinking you are different. It is interesting to learn how she evolves into the person she becomes and I was hooked on knowing the outcome from the first page. Also loved how another life that was deeply affected by the tragedy was weaved in and out of the story to make a tightly held together emotional tapestry that left me feeling like there is hope for a better future in store for these children! Great story.read more
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Durrow, Heidi W. his perfect jewel of a novel mirrors the real life of the author, Heidi Durrow, who grew up biracial in the early 80's in Portland, Oregon.read more
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The story of Rachel, daughter of a black GI father and a Danish mother, and her family begins with a bizarre tragedy. Don't be put off by the quick reveal of that event, though, because the rest of the book is a slow unfolding of the "why" and "how" from the viewpoint of a number of varied characters in the book. The different perspectives of those characters adds a richness to the story, and the mystery of "why" isn't solved until the very end of the book. The author deals with themes of race, alcoholism, forgiveness, among others, which brings up my only negative comment about the book. Too many issues means some of them are not dealt with thoroughly enough to satisfy the reader. Overall, though, an original story and a good read.read more
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It says a lot that this debut novel has already won The Bellwether Prize (an award for literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships). It says a lot that Durrow is being compared to Toni Morrison, Nella Larsen and the early Langston Hughes. What can't be said until you read it for yourself is how deeply the reader will grow to care for Rachel, the lone survivor of her mother's attempted murder/suicide (her brother and baby sister were no so lucky) who has come to live with her grandmother in Portland in the early 1980s. Rachel is biracial, but her remaining extended family and the kids at school see her as black, something Rachel had never before thought about. This coming of age drama is woven into the mystery of what happened to push her mother over the edge and is told over the course of several years. It's full of characters whose whole lives were changed that day by the tragedy that day , and things come full circle in a deeply meaningful and satisfying way. I found it very difficult to put this book down. This is a powerful read and an amazing first novel by a new voice to watch in literary fiction.read more
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devastating and heartbreaking story of a girl who survived an unthinkable tragedy and lived to figure out who she isread more
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The Girl Who Fell from the Sky tells the story of Rachel Morse, the sole survivor of her Danish mother's maternal psychosis that ended in the deaths of her mother and her siblings. She is sent to live with her African American grandmother and aunt. While they love her, her grandmother especially is wary of her mixed ethnicity and any influence Rachel's mother's mental illness may have on her. Growing up with the weight of her mother's actions and her mixed heritage is challenging. Is she responsible for the sins of her mother? How can she find her way to herself when there is no one else out there like her?This is a wonderful novel, but I have absolutely no idea how to review it. It tells the story of Rachel and her mother from various viewpoints, helping to paint a more complete picture. I liked how Rachel's mom lived on through her subtlety and most significantly through her AA slogans. Rachel's life isn't the only one changed forever as a result of that afternoon at the top of their Chicago high rise. Brick, a child who witnessed Rachel's brother fall from the sky, was also a victim of sorts. Both are survivors, though. That's what makes this book so powerful.My Final ThoughtsI thought this novel was an interesting character study that was both honest and respectful of person. It brings to light the plight of mothers who are mentally ill, bi-racial children, learning to make adult choices, and growing up despite overwhelming odds. I may not be able to articulate just why very well, but I do recommend The Girl Who Fell From the Sky for these reasons and more. It is well deserving of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.read more
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This is a multi-layered story told from varied points of view, as well as from different points in time. Loosely speaking, it's a coming-of-age novel about a girl growing up in her grandmother's house, after a tragic incident takes the lives of her mother & siblings. As she struggles to come to terms with her identity (her mother being Danish, her father being African-American), she discovers that she can't just be herself -- society places her in one category or another because of her skin color. Meanwhile, the reader is gradually enligtened as to the timeline that led up to the family tragedy.I read this on audio, and while I was initially confused in trying to orient time, place, & point of view, I eventually really came to appreciate the format of this story, as well as the story itself. This is a novel that begs for discussion, as it presents several controversial topics. Definitely worth a read.read more
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The germ of this story about a mother leaping off a building with her children (which did happen), is tragic and interesting, and the same can be said for the difficulties that children of mixed race have in fitting into either of their parent’s cultures. However, this novel is poorly executed. The writing is devoid of artistry and “dumbed down” to the point of elementary school level; one needn’t do that to create young adult fiction (see “The Book Thief”). Everyone in the book talks like a five-year-old. The plot and the actions of the characters are also often unrealistic, and there is no payoff at the end, with the possible exception of the thought “thank God I’ve finished this book”. See how far you get before you start saying “ugh”, then stop reading it.Quotes:On the African-American experience:“Laronne’s mother had her own story of ‘The First Time I Was Called a Nigger.’ Her father did too. These stories were passed down to Laronne when it happened to her that day. They did not help her stop crying. They did not soothe.”On the Blues:“Well, I would explain the blues this way: Like for me, I imagine inside of a person there’s a blue bottle, you know? … The bottle is where everything sad or mean or confusing can go. And the blues – it’s like that bottle. But in the bottle there’s a seed that you let grow. Even in the bottle it can grow big and green. It’s full of all those feelings that are in there, but beautiful and growing, too.”read more
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I loved this story. The bi-racial element, the inter-generational mismatch, the tension created by the uncertainty about whether or not the family jumped or was pushed, the multiple first person perspectives... It was all good.read more
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Good. Quick read. Good for HS students.read more
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This well-written novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a black US serviceman and a white Danish mother. Growing up in Europe, Rachel and her family had a very different experience with race than they encountered on their return to the US. As the story of how Rachel came to live with her grandmother and aunt unfolds, the terrible central tragedy of Rachel's life is revealed. As Rachel grows up trying to reconcile what she knows about herself and her family with the life her grandmother wants her to lead, she is torn by conflicting demands and the pressures of developing her own self identity. A powerful and moving narrative.read more
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Rachel lives with her grandmother because her mother, in a fit of depression, pushed her children and jumped off the roof of a nine-storey apartment complex. Rachel survived.This is the sort of book that I don't necessarily like while I'm reading, but as it lingers in my mind and I turn over elements of it in my thoughts, I realize how powerful and beautiful it was. The structure is a little difficult. Rachel's narrates her parts of the story, while the experiences of Laronne (her mother's boss), Jamie (the boy who witnessed her brother falling), and others are interspersed in a story that covers about five years in non-chronological order. As if her mother's suicide and her siblings' deaths weren't enough to deal with, Rachel is of mixed race, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black father. But the book doesn't read like an "issues" book, it's just Rachel's story of adolescence, growing up, finding her identity and understanding her past. It's very internal, almost a collection of impressions rather than a straightforward plot. A few sentences made me stop in my tracks because I had to think about them, rather than rush on to the end. The story itself is how Rachel describes the blues: storing up all sorts of sadness, but making something beautiful out of it.read more
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It's interesting to me that I started reading this book at a time in my life when I really needed a book with this message. Unfortunately, although it looked promising, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky just didn't deliver for me.I wanted to get the message, but a lot of the book seemed trite and like it was trying too hard. I understand from researching a little bit that this book stems from the real-life background of the author, Heidi Durrow, who is the daughter of a Danish immigrant and an African-American Military man. I don't mean to discredit her experiences and how she perceived things - I'm speaking merely from a readers point of view. The story was just too confusing.There were so many messages being attempted. Racial tension, mental disorders, post-traumatic stress in children were just a few that stood out to me. As the story moved from person to person to get their points of view I felt like I was being whipped back and forth and it was hard to follow the actual story. Was the author intending a bit of mystery by keeping one of the most important bits of information from us? Because in a book like this - there really doesn't need to be mystery. Let us know from the outset what we're dealing with or it just seems overwhelming.This is another of those instances where awards were given and I'm left feeling as if maybe I'm just not smart enough to "get it." I guess I'll learn to live with that and file this one away. Maybe I'll "get it" more as time passes and I reflect back on it.read more
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Wonderful read....very sad, but with a hopeful ending!read more
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A young would-be birdwatcher sees an egret fly past the window of his apartment building. When he runs outside, he sees that it wasn't a bird at all, but a woman and her three children who had tried, vainly, to fly off the building's roof. One of those children survived--Rachel's fall was broken by the crumpled bodies of her mother and siblings. This is Rachel's story. Her mother was Danish; her father African-American. Rachel, both white and black, had never been away from her mother--and now suddenly finds herself in her father's black community in Oregon. This is a story of searching for identity--is Rachel black or white; can she be both? There are many big ideas touched upon here--race, altruism, family, alcoholism, --perhaps too many ideas to fit in one not-so-long book. Told from the point of views of several of the characters (including the diary of the doomed mother), the stories never really hold together as a novel. There are too many coincidences and chance meetings for it to ring true. Also, perhaps too many characters to track in a book this brief. It seems that the author overreached herself, and just tried to do too much.I
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This book's strength is its characters. Just as the main character discovers that everyone isn't as they seem, so too the reader will discover that each character is complex, with secrets and layers to discover all the way until the end. The story is of a young bi-racial girl whose early life in Europe sheltered her from the bigotry and reality of being black in the US South. She faces this reality much more harshly than necessary due to the lack of understanding of her newly discovered black grandmother, who takes her in after her mother dies. Her grandmother only considers her in the context of her blackness (how to take care of her hair, how she should behave..) and she only thinks of herself as like her white mother. When her two halves collide, she struggles to come to terms with who she is and which world she belongs in.
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This is a sad but insightful book about the challenges sometimes faced by biracial children, whose parents come from markedly different backgrounds and cultures. It is well worth reading and would be a good candidate for book club discussions.
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This is another great "The Girl Who" book though completely different from the Millennium Series. This would be a great book club selection.
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The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow is an amazing book and the winner of the 2008 Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Thank you to Algonquin Books for the opportunity to read and review the Advance Reading Copy. With multiple narrators, as well as a variety of plots and subplots, we discover what it feels like to be a young biracial girl in Portland during the early 1980s. Rachel begins her story in Germany where she lives with her Danish mother, her black American father and her younger sister. Returning to the United States, Rachel is the sole survivor of a tragedy in Chicago where her mother and sister die. Rachel must learn to live with her Black paternal grandmother in Oregon. To further confuse the sad yet developing young girl, she faces racist attitudes that nearly crush her spirit. Over time, we learn her history and how she will face her future.Another strong voice in the novel is Jamie - a young black boy who lived in the public housing unit near Rachel in Chicago and actually saw what happened to her family. Jamie faces racial discrimination as well and runs from his mother who is more interested in drugs than her own child. Both young people develop friendships and relationships that both hurt and help them. I thought it was interesting that the author chose to describe Europe as more accepting of biracial relationships and people in general. And to place Rachel in northern and northwestern cities where typically racism is portrayed less negatively.In many ways, this is partly Durrow's own story. On her Web site, she relates that she is biracial and faced many of the same questions as the title character when she was growing up in Oregon.A wonderful book which examines racial attitudes and how far we have to go in mutual understanding in this country.
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interesting structure, well written, unsatisfactory ending
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This book was great! Yes, it is told from a few different perspectives, but that might be why I liked it so much. I liked knowing what Rachel (the main character) was thinking, and how the other characters tied in with her.
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The main character, Rachel, is the daughter of a Danish woman and a black GI giving her unique physical characteristics (blue eyes, light brown skin, light frizzy hair). The majority of this book takes place as Rachel lives with her grandmother (her Dad's mother) in Portland, Oregon during the 70's and 80's (just a guess, no exact date is given that I recall). A great tragedy occurs at the beginning of the book, and it is this event that leaves Rachel to spend the remainder of her childhood with her strict grandmother.My synopsis makes this book sound rather dull, but I'm afraid that's how I perceived it as a whole. For me, there was a huge disconnect between characters, events taking place in their lives, and me - the reader. The characters were not portrayed in a way that made me care for them; there was no emotional link. I picked this book because of the unique perspective it provided on racial tension and being a child of parents with different races, but I did not particularly enjoy the way that this tension was addressed. Maybe, this is because of the realistic portrayal; but, I feel as if it was because I was not fully aquainted with the characters. Heidi Durrow, the author, was a child of a Danish mother and black father, so I don't dare argue with her descriptions of the present racial tension. I just did not become engrossed in what could have been a heart-wrenching novel.Recommendation: Check out other reviews before deciding whether this is for you or not. For me, it missed the mark on character development and portrayal of emotions. Maybe you will see it differently!
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The story is very interesting, inventive, involved. It keeps you on your toes and you feel for the main gal, Rachel.....but....the story is told from multiple perspectives, and a lot of them are children. I find both these things a bit annoying. I dont want to give to much away and am glad to have read the back after finishing the book, as I feel it gave too much away even there. But, Rachel is a girl who finds herself living with her grandmother under not very nice circumstances. We basically get these circumstances spelled out to us over the course of the book, and the ultimate answer is delivered late. It is not a thriller or a crime novel, but does a good job in keeping you guessing without feeling like you are being teased with tidbits. I found the writing fairly simple, and not in a good way. It came over as too basic for the subject matter being explored (one of the hurdles of writing from the perspective of youngsters?). There is grief, racism, abandonment, violence and more. At times I found it all a bit gratuitous. But (again), the story itself was compelling enough to carry it for me.
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I love novels that are told from different characters' points of view. In The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, the author gives us three alternating narrators. Twelve-year old Rachel has survived a terrible tragedy (well, she has survived physically, at least), and her life and her sense of self change drastically when she is sent to be raised by her grandmother in Portland, Oregon. Jamie, the son of a junkie prostitute, has witnessed the tragedy and becomes obsessed with it. Unbeknownst to her, he visits Rachel in the hospital, where he befriends her father. The man tells him a story and makes him promise to tell it to Rachel one day--a promise that pushes Jamie to leave home and change his identity. The third voice, which we don't begin to hear until later in the novel, is that of Rachel's mother, Nella; we hear her only through her brief but painful diary entries.In Portland, young Rachel finds herself trying to understand not only the events leading up to her mother's tragic decision but her own racial identity--or the lack of it. "Light skinned-ed" with blue eyes, she is the daughter of an African-American soldier and a Danish woman (like Durrow herself). Never before has she had to answer the question, "What are you?" But living with her black grandmother and aunt leads others to answer the question for her, and she struggles with the fact that people expect her to choose to be labelled either black or white rather than to be herself, "a story." Durrow's moving novel is finely written, spare and and at times poetic: images of birds, flying, and falling pervade the narrative, almost acting like a framework. The author merges her personal experiences with those of Rachel, making her character's thoughts and feelings all the more believable. While not a story that I want to say that I "enjoyed," I appreciated its artful telling, its fine characterizations, and its illumination of issues that I hadn't really thought about deeply before.
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Growing up biracial. Pulled a lot from her own childhood, apparently, added a great conflict at the center - good example of exploring a personal issue within/around an intriguing plot. I loved the way she wove the stories of two different children together. My copy had an interview with her at the end, was quite interesting to learn she also grew up with a Scandinavian mother.
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sad but good; I read this a while ago and don't remember too many details, but I remember liking it
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Rachel a bi-racial Danish and Black, light skinned with blue eyes black girl is delivered to her black grandmother after her mother, brother and baby sister fall off the roof of their apartment building. Her new neighborhood is surrounded with mostly black children and as far from home as she could end up. Rachel struggles to fit in with her new family and piece together her shattered life. Her coming of age story is contrasted with stories from some of those impacted by the tragedy. Through Rachel's memories and stories from her distant father, her mother, her mother's employer, and a young boy who witnessed the tragedy, we slowly piece together what happened on the roof as well as more family secrets that contributed to it. We also see how this event ultimately shapes Rachel's life. The mystery at the center of the story is slowly unraveled as the book shifts amongst narrators, perspective and time. Instead of confusing or irritating its audience, the novel's structure only adds to its power. This sad and compelling plot is further credited by a strinkingly unique voice.The Girl who Fell from the Sky is sure to be one of the best books of 2010.
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Some of the best fiction published these days comes from smaller presses. Although Algonquin Press of Chapel Hill is a subsidiary of Workman Publishing, it still seems like a small press to me. Their cutting edge fiction, with its thrills and surprises, is most definitely difficult to put down. Amazing arrays of interesting characters, together with masterful prose, have become hallmarks of Algonquin.Heidi W. Durrow has continued the Algonquin tradition of fine fiction with a mesmerizing story, dream-like at times and made from equal parts of recollection and repression of horrific events. She has created a wonderful cast of interesting characters. Each chapter is like a piece in the puzzle. Slowly, the reader makes the outline of the picture, and bit by bit, fills in all the blank spaces.This novel won the Bellwether Prize. Barbara Kingsolver, who founded the Bellwether Prize for the fiction in support of social change, writes on the website, “Fiction has a unique capacity to bring difficult issues to a broad readership on a personal level, creating empathy in a reader’s heart for the theoretical stranger. Its capacity for invoking moral and social responsibility is enormous. Throughout history, every movement toward a more peaceful and humane world has begun with those who imagined the possibilities. The Bellwether Prize seeks to support the imagination of humane possibilities.” Durrow richly deserves The Bellwether Prize.Rachel’s mother, Mor, is a blue-eyed, blonde Danish woman, who met and married her father, Roger, a Black American soldier while he was stationed in Germany. Shortly after a divorce, Mor’s death occurs, and Rachel finds herself caught between two worlds. She leaves Chicago to live with her paternal Grandmother, Doris, who wrenches Rachel from the white world of Mor into a traditional African-American world.The Girl Who Fell from the Sky revolves around Rachel’s attempt to adjust to the changes in her life. She runs into conflicts everywhere – black girls tease her because of her blue eyes; white children tease her because of her hair. But she has friends, especially Brick, who witnessed the “accident” which took Mor’s life. He guards this secret until he can tell Rachel. His story – along with Rachel’s repressed memories – finish the tapestry of this tragic tale.Brick travels across the country to find Rachel. He finally meets up with her in Portland, Oregon, and they become friends before she knows his real identity and what he knows. Durrow writes,"For weeks Brick wondered how to approach Rachel – how to tell the story he’d promised to tell. He often joined her for lunch with Jesse. They would each get a slice of pizza or a sandwich at the deli and then eat in Pioneer Courthouse Square watching people go by.Rachel never talked about herself. When Brick asked her where she lived in Chicago, she said she couldn’t remember. The way she shut off – her eyes went blank; her voice went low – he knew Chicago wasn’t a memory she visited often. He would have to find the right moment to tell her the story he’d promised Roger he’d share." (211)This first novel is so stunning, I can’t wait for Durrow’s next work. Who said books and the novel are dead? As long as Algonquin Press continues to discover new writers and turn out fiction of this quality, readers will have plenty to occupy themselves during those quiet moments when curling up with a book is the only remedy for what ails a body and a mind. Five stars--Jim, 9/7/10
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This remarkable novel is based on a true event, which makes it all the more poignant. Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and black father, is the lone survivor of an horrendous family tragedy. She leaves Chicago to live with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Oregon where the issues of her biracial identity continue to plague her. Algonquin Books publishes unique and noteworthy fiction, and this book is no exception.
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Very powerful. A little confusing at some points as it goes from character to character. Rachel survives her mother's attempt to kill herself and her children, but does not save her brother Robbie. Her mother throws her brother and sister off the roof and Rachel attempts to jump and land to protect her brother. She survives and they don't. Rachel is a blue eyed mulatto and the stress of her life continues on.
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A disturbing book about what a mother does in the name of love and loss and out of hopeless despair. Tragedy fills the life of "the girl who fell from the sky". But also entwined within the fabric of this tale is the identitiy of a mixed race child and the feelings she has coping and dealing with thinking you are different. It is interesting to learn how she evolves into the person she becomes and I was hooked on knowing the outcome from the first page. Also loved how another life that was deeply affected by the tragedy was weaved in and out of the story to make a tightly held together emotional tapestry that left me feeling like there is hope for a better future in store for these children! Great story.
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Durrow, Heidi W. his perfect jewel of a novel mirrors the real life of the author, Heidi Durrow, who grew up biracial in the early 80's in Portland, Oregon.
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The story of Rachel, daughter of a black GI father and a Danish mother, and her family begins with a bizarre tragedy. Don't be put off by the quick reveal of that event, though, because the rest of the book is a slow unfolding of the "why" and "how" from the viewpoint of a number of varied characters in the book. The different perspectives of those characters adds a richness to the story, and the mystery of "why" isn't solved until the very end of the book. The author deals with themes of race, alcoholism, forgiveness, among others, which brings up my only negative comment about the book. Too many issues means some of them are not dealt with thoroughly enough to satisfy the reader. Overall, though, an original story and a good read.
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It says a lot that this debut novel has already won The Bellwether Prize (an award for literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships). It says a lot that Durrow is being compared to Toni Morrison, Nella Larsen and the early Langston Hughes. What can't be said until you read it for yourself is how deeply the reader will grow to care for Rachel, the lone survivor of her mother's attempted murder/suicide (her brother and baby sister were no so lucky) who has come to live with her grandmother in Portland in the early 1980s. Rachel is biracial, but her remaining extended family and the kids at school see her as black, something Rachel had never before thought about. This coming of age drama is woven into the mystery of what happened to push her mother over the edge and is told over the course of several years. It's full of characters whose whole lives were changed that day by the tragedy that day , and things come full circle in a deeply meaningful and satisfying way. I found it very difficult to put this book down. This is a powerful read and an amazing first novel by a new voice to watch in literary fiction.
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devastating and heartbreaking story of a girl who survived an unthinkable tragedy and lived to figure out who she is
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The Girl Who Fell from the Sky tells the story of Rachel Morse, the sole survivor of her Danish mother's maternal psychosis that ended in the deaths of her mother and her siblings. She is sent to live with her African American grandmother and aunt. While they love her, her grandmother especially is wary of her mixed ethnicity and any influence Rachel's mother's mental illness may have on her. Growing up with the weight of her mother's actions and her mixed heritage is challenging. Is she responsible for the sins of her mother? How can she find her way to herself when there is no one else out there like her?This is a wonderful novel, but I have absolutely no idea how to review it. It tells the story of Rachel and her mother from various viewpoints, helping to paint a more complete picture. I liked how Rachel's mom lived on through her subtlety and most significantly through her AA slogans. Rachel's life isn't the only one changed forever as a result of that afternoon at the top of their Chicago high rise. Brick, a child who witnessed Rachel's brother fall from the sky, was also a victim of sorts. Both are survivors, though. That's what makes this book so powerful.My Final ThoughtsI thought this novel was an interesting character study that was both honest and respectful of person. It brings to light the plight of mothers who are mentally ill, bi-racial children, learning to make adult choices, and growing up despite overwhelming odds. I may not be able to articulate just why very well, but I do recommend The Girl Who Fell From the Sky for these reasons and more. It is well deserving of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.
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This is a multi-layered story told from varied points of view, as well as from different points in time. Loosely speaking, it's a coming-of-age novel about a girl growing up in her grandmother's house, after a tragic incident takes the lives of her mother & siblings. As she struggles to come to terms with her identity (her mother being Danish, her father being African-American), she discovers that she can't just be herself -- society places her in one category or another because of her skin color. Meanwhile, the reader is gradually enligtened as to the timeline that led up to the family tragedy.I read this on audio, and while I was initially confused in trying to orient time, place, & point of view, I eventually really came to appreciate the format of this story, as well as the story itself. This is a novel that begs for discussion, as it presents several controversial topics. Definitely worth a read.
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The germ of this story about a mother leaping off a building with her children (which did happen), is tragic and interesting, and the same can be said for the difficulties that children of mixed race have in fitting into either of their parent’s cultures. However, this novel is poorly executed. The writing is devoid of artistry and “dumbed down” to the point of elementary school level; one needn’t do that to create young adult fiction (see “The Book Thief”). Everyone in the book talks like a five-year-old. The plot and the actions of the characters are also often unrealistic, and there is no payoff at the end, with the possible exception of the thought “thank God I’ve finished this book”. See how far you get before you start saying “ugh”, then stop reading it.Quotes:On the African-American experience:“Laronne’s mother had her own story of ‘The First Time I Was Called a Nigger.’ Her father did too. These stories were passed down to Laronne when it happened to her that day. They did not help her stop crying. They did not soothe.”On the Blues:“Well, I would explain the blues this way: Like for me, I imagine inside of a person there’s a blue bottle, you know? … The bottle is where everything sad or mean or confusing can go. And the blues – it’s like that bottle. But in the bottle there’s a seed that you let grow. Even in the bottle it can grow big and green. It’s full of all those feelings that are in there, but beautiful and growing, too.”
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I loved this story. The bi-racial element, the inter-generational mismatch, the tension created by the uncertainty about whether or not the family jumped or was pushed, the multiple first person perspectives... It was all good.
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Good. Quick read. Good for HS students.
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This well-written novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a black US serviceman and a white Danish mother. Growing up in Europe, Rachel and her family had a very different experience with race than they encountered on their return to the US. As the story of how Rachel came to live with her grandmother and aunt unfolds, the terrible central tragedy of Rachel's life is revealed. As Rachel grows up trying to reconcile what she knows about herself and her family with the life her grandmother wants her to lead, she is torn by conflicting demands and the pressures of developing her own self identity. A powerful and moving narrative.
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Rachel lives with her grandmother because her mother, in a fit of depression, pushed her children and jumped off the roof of a nine-storey apartment complex. Rachel survived.This is the sort of book that I don't necessarily like while I'm reading, but as it lingers in my mind and I turn over elements of it in my thoughts, I realize how powerful and beautiful it was. The structure is a little difficult. Rachel's narrates her parts of the story, while the experiences of Laronne (her mother's boss), Jamie (the boy who witnessed her brother falling), and others are interspersed in a story that covers about five years in non-chronological order. As if her mother's suicide and her siblings' deaths weren't enough to deal with, Rachel is of mixed race, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black father. But the book doesn't read like an "issues" book, it's just Rachel's story of adolescence, growing up, finding her identity and understanding her past. It's very internal, almost a collection of impressions rather than a straightforward plot. A few sentences made me stop in my tracks because I had to think about them, rather than rush on to the end. The story itself is how Rachel describes the blues: storing up all sorts of sadness, but making something beautiful out of it.
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It's interesting to me that I started reading this book at a time in my life when I really needed a book with this message. Unfortunately, although it looked promising, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky just didn't deliver for me.I wanted to get the message, but a lot of the book seemed trite and like it was trying too hard. I understand from researching a little bit that this book stems from the real-life background of the author, Heidi Durrow, who is the daughter of a Danish immigrant and an African-American Military man. I don't mean to discredit her experiences and how she perceived things - I'm speaking merely from a readers point of view. The story was just too confusing.There were so many messages being attempted. Racial tension, mental disorders, post-traumatic stress in children were just a few that stood out to me. As the story moved from person to person to get their points of view I felt like I was being whipped back and forth and it was hard to follow the actual story. Was the author intending a bit of mystery by keeping one of the most important bits of information from us? Because in a book like this - there really doesn't need to be mystery. Let us know from the outset what we're dealing with or it just seems overwhelming.This is another of those instances where awards were given and I'm left feeling as if maybe I'm just not smart enough to "get it." I guess I'll learn to live with that and file this one away. Maybe I'll "get it" more as time passes and I reflect back on it.
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Wonderful read....very sad, but with a hopeful ending!
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