The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
February 2010, Algonquin Books

The heart of Durrow’s debut novel, the winner of the 2008 Bellwether Prize for Fiction, is Rachel, a young girl who is uprooted from her home after a tragedy. With a Danish mother and an African American father, Rachel must reevaluate her identity when she moves in with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Oregon. “I learn that I am black,” she thinks. “I have blue eyes. I put all these new facts into the new girl.” Many readers will no doubt note that this narrative is timely in an age of Obama—and that’s true. The novel is also poignant, funny and at times troubling and deeply sad. I’m about halfway through The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, and in the pages I’ve read, I’ve grown attached to Rachel. I am eager to hear out her story and then read a behind-the-book essay by the author, which will be featured in the March edition of BookPage.

There are no black people in Nature today. Only us.

The wind catches me at the ankles now. My socks have fallen on the climb up the stairs to this lookout point.

“No way we could get Miss Doris up to see this,” Drew says.

“There’s no way my mama wants to be out in the thick of cold climbing up stairs to see anything but the Lord himself,” Aunt Loretta says. “But if she did. . .”

Aunt Loretta doesn’t finish what she’s saying. She stares out at the falls and moves her hands in the air like she can measure what she is seeing. Like she’s framing it with her hands.

“You about done with this cold, Rachel?” Drew asks.

“Yes, sir.”

Aunt Loretta is leaning on the rail, looking at the waterfall now. She’s hypnotized. I think she is crying.

Drew sees that she is crying too.

Aunt Loretta cries without sound, but I can see a shudder go through her. Is it the cold wind? Drew is saying something to her. I hear in only half volume. The wind is in my good ear, and in the other a thrumming, a hum.

“I want to be that girl again,” is all I can hear of what Aunt Loretta says. Drew seems to know what she means. He leans into her, but I move away. I don’t want hands on me.

I take small steps backing off the bridge. I walk slowly and carefully. What I’m scared of I can’t explain. It’s the look in Aunt Loretta’s eyes, the way her voice sounds small and hurt. Maybe she’s measured a long icy fall.

What are you reading today?

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