The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

By Heidi W. Durrow
Publisher:Algonquin Books, (1/11/2010)

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)

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This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. 

With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, here is a portrait of a young girl— and society's ideas of race, class, and beauty. It is the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.

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Jenny's thoughts on "The Girl Who Fell from the Sky"
updated on:2/11/2012

Very Unleashable

"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky"
By Heidi W. Durrow

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

What is Rachel's central dilemma?

What prevented Nella from returning to her family in Denmark?

Why does Brick become fascinated with Rachel? What does he ultimately hope for his relationship with her?

How do you make sense of Roger's absence from his daughter's life?

Why does Rachel develop such a strong bond with Aunt Loretta?

Grandma is a church-going woman. But what is most important to her about her religion? What does she want Rachel to value about religion?

What does Rachel make of being told she's beautiful?

"Grandma's dreams come from hearing about Up North when she was growing up in Texas on a farm, on a road that had no name. Grandma's dream is bigger than her life. I guess at Mor's dreams; having a husband, a family, love. That's the way I would list them. But then I think about it again—her dream maybe was feeling the way she felt with Doug—the way she would smile easy; she would laugh easy; she would play. At least at first. Then the sky in her dream got low too." How would you describe Grandma's dreams? Nella's? Rachel's?

If Rachel had a theme song, what would it be?

What difference, if any, does it make knowing that the book is inspired by a real event?

Do you think that in the age of Obama, biracial/bicultural people will continue to experience the same kinds of stereotypes and stigma that Rachel did?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
Have a good question? If your a clubie add one now. Review
Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010
: Early on in The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Rachel Morse (the girl in question) wonders about being "tender-headed." It's how her grandmother chides her for wincing at having her hair brushed, but it's also a way of understanding how Rachel grapples with the world in which she landed. Her parents, a Danish woman and an African-American G.I., tried to hold her and her siblings aloft from questions of race, and their failure there is both tragic and tenderly wrought. After sustaining an unimaginable trauma, Rachel resumes her life as a black girl, an identity she quickly learns to adopt but at heart is always reconciling with the life she knew before. Heidi W. Durrow bolsters her story with a chorus of voices that often see what Rachel can't--this is particularly true in the case of Brick, the only witness to her fall. There's a poetry to these characters that draws you into their lives, making for a beautiful and earnest coming-of-age novel that speaks as eloquently to teens as it does to adults. --Anne Bartholomew
From Publishers Weekly
Durrow's debut draws from her own upbringing as the brown-skinned, blue-eyed daughter of a Danish woman and a black G.I. to create Rachel Morse, a young girl with an identical heritage growing up in the early 1980s. After a devastating family tragedy in Chicago with Rachel the only survivor, she goes to live with the paternal grandmother she's never met, in a decidedly black neighborhood in Portland, Ore. Suddenly, at 11, Rachel is in a world that demands her to be either white or black. As she struggles with her grief and the haunting, yet-to-be-revealed truth of the tragedy, her appearance and intelligence place her under constant scrutiny. Laronne, Rachel's deceased mother's employer, and Brick, a young boy who witnessed the tragedy and because of his personal misfortunes is drawn into Rachel's world, help piece together the puzzle of Rachel's family. Taut prose, a controversial conclusion and the thoughtful reflection on racism and racial identity resonate without treading into political or even overtly specific agenda waters, as the story succeeds as both a modern coming-of-age and relevant social commentary. (Feb.) 
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That rare thing: a post-postmodern novel with heart that weaves a circle of stories about race and self-discovery into a tense and sometimes terrifying whole. Ms. Magazine (Ms. Magazine )

“That rare thing: a post-postmodern novel with heart that weaves a circle of stories about race and self-discovery into a tense and sometimes terrifying whole.”
Ms. Magazine (Ms. Magazine )

“[An] insightful family saga of the toxicity of racism and the forging of the self . . . Durrow brings piercing authenticity to this provocative tale, winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.”
Booklist [starred review] (Booklist ) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
"When I first envisioned the Bellwether Prize, I imagined all the best qualities of fiction; vivid language, compelling characters, and clear moral vision.  Novels just like this one, Heidi Durrow's breathless telling of a tale we've never heard before.  Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect, this book could not be more timely."
(Barbara Kingsolver )

"One of the most convincing, original, and moving novels in the distinguished canon of American interracial literature."
"Heidi Durrow is a wonderfully gifted writer who can summon a voice, a memorable character, with bold, swift strokes. [This] is a gem." —Jay Parini, author of Promised Land 

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Heidi W. Durrow has won the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Chapter One Fiction Contest. She has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the American Scandinavian Foundation, and the Lois Roth Endowment and a Fellowship for Emerging Writers from the Jerome Foundation. Her writing has been published inAlaska Quarterly Review, the Literary Review, and others. 

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