“I learn that black people don’t have blue eyes. I learn that I am black. I have blue eyes. I put all these new facts into the new girl.”
Even though the tone of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky reads like a young adult novel, told simply from the point of view of the characters–a young boy fascinated by birds, an immigrant mother, Rachel, the young protagonist–the book itself is drenched in disturbing realities and complex subjects, including race and identity.
The debut novel by Heidi Durrow centers around Rachel, a half-Danish half-African-American young woman who suddenly finds herself “the new girl” in 1980s Portland Oregon, after surviving a horrifying but mysterious accident in Chicago that killed her mother and siblings.
Rachel struggles with more than just missing her family though, she has to navigate her new life living with her Southern grandmother and artistc aunt, as well as adjusting to the Northeast Portland neighborhood and school after a life of traveling around the world as an army brat. As Durrow put it in a recent talk, “Rachel’s spent her life living around the world and considers herself ‘American’. When she gets to NE Portland she is no longer ‘American’.” Rachel finds herself dwelling on her first black teacher, her hairstyle, and her choices of friends and boys in ways she hadn’t before.
Bi-racial identity is something very close to Durrow. She’s also half-black and half-Danish and grew up in Portland, and dealt with difficulties of reconciling the identities others expectedof her with her own knowledge of who she was.
While Rachel slowly embraces her new black identity and comes of age, the mystery of her family’s past comes to light as well. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky has received the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, a biennial award started by Barbara Kingsolver to honor fiction books that address social justice issues.
Durrow, who’s proud to call herself a feminist, continues to explore her identity through the podcast Mixed Chix Chat. She and her co-host Franshen Cox are also the founders of Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival.
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky [Powell’s]