Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

So fine to stumble upon a great read today.  Well, in fact, I didn't so much stumble as stride there, guided by ShelfAwareness, the daily email about books and bookselling.  I'm a tad addicted to my morning ShelfAwareness now, and the banner ad for The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow caught my eye three days running until I investigated reviews and put a copy on hold at the library.  I picked it up at noon, started it around 2:00 this afternoon and finished it by 8:00 this evening.  It's not normal for me to devour a book that quickly, yet, even with quite a few other tasks to tackle this afternoon, it was easily the highlight of my day. 

It's a mystery of sorts: A mom and her three kids fall off a nine-story Chicago rooftop.  All but nine-year-old (??) Rachel die on the pavement below.  Why they fell, whether they leapt or were pushed, persists as a question not only for Rachel, who's soon shipped to Portland, OR to live with her paternal grandmother, but also for Brick, a young neighbor who witnessses the fall.  And for Doug, Mor(the mom)'s boyfriend, for her boss, Laronne, and for Robert, her husband.

And it's a coming of age story about race and place as well: Rachel's mom is from Denmark and her dad is African American.  Rachel's blue eyes and mocha skin raise questions wherever she goes, and she slips and stumbles upon the hard edges of a world where the not-quite-categorizable is often denegrated and where the unusual 'other' is often suspect.  Uprooted, subject to the contrary whims of her grandmother, and terrified to unlock the blue vase inside where her anger and grief dwell, Rachel does things even she doesn't entirely understand.

Structure-wise, the narrative shifts among 6 central characters, yet the plot builds handily toward its climax:  Durrow's deft, not only in creating a protagonist who's utterly believable in a situation we wish we couldn't believe, but also in keeping the tension taught while layering in psychological depth and juggling multiple perspectives.

I'm glad that I spent the afternoon reading this.  High school and middle school English teachers, especially: Try it - I'll bet your students will be reading it...

Action: I am going to recommend this to at least 10 people I otherwise wouldn't contact.  That means in addition to you reading this... I'm going to write my first Amazon review, and put most of this one on Goodreads as well (I often link there, but don't flat-out cut-n-paste), and call a few folks and email a few others and tell the librarians at my local library and offer a review to our local booksellers too.  I might even post a status on FB about it... It's that worth reading.

Just the Jist List
Title: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
Author: Heidi W. Durrow
Genre(s): realistic contemporary fiction (could be read by young adults, but not a "YA" book per se)
Book's Website:
Author's Website:  (yes, same site)
Year Published: 2010
Pages: 264
When was it read? January 13, 2011
Perfect Matches: Mature young adults looking for a gripping read, anyone who craves a well-crafted contemporary fiction, anyone interested in issues of identity, race, coming of age
Perfect Timing: Great airplane read (well, except for the whole family falling to their deaths part), so maybe great train or car travel read or snow-day read
Perfect NOT: people who don't like women/female protagonists, people who don't like to read realistic fiction, can't handle multiple perspectives, don't like imperfect or complex characters
Content Fab Scale (1-5): ****
Why? These issues will likely never stop being relevant in the USA, and worldwide, for that matter.  And unique and insightful coming-of-age stories are ever welcome.  We're all still coming of age in one way or another, aren't we?  Plus there are quite a few dimensional adult characters here as well.  And did I mention it's keenly crafted too?
Action Fab Scale (1-5): ****
Why? One could attempt any number of actions related to content angles in this book, although I wound up going meta here.
# Yellow Stickies: 1 - It was too gripping to interrupt with stickies.
Why? See above.
Get it:  (again - I'm not currently affiliated w/the stores below, just hoping to make access easy for you - the links below are direct to the book)

MFB with more great reads (fingers crossed),


Dana KBS said...

I read a review of this in EW and it looked promising...but would I be too disturbed by the death/murder/suicide of mom and kids? (bites nails) -dks

Laurie said...

Nah, you're tough, and there's only a reasonably brief description of the fall early on. Nothing too graphic here. You know me: very delicate constitution!

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