Black and Blue, and a Bit White Too: Heidi W. Durow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

I hesitated to read this book at first because it sounded rather intense for me at the time. It certainly was intense, but it intrigued me, and I was glad to have read
it.

Set in 1980’s Portland, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky tells the story of Rachel–the Daughter of a Danish mother and Black father, and the soel surviver of a tragic family accident. When Rachel, along with her mother, brother, and sister, fall nine stories from a Chicago apartment building, Rachel miraculously survives. With her military father away on a “mission,” Rachel is taken in by her old-fashion, formidable Black grandmother in a primarily Black community in Portland, Oregon. There, she begins to piece together an identity for herself with the shattered remnents of her past. With her brown skin, “nappy” hair, and enchanting blue eyes–a white girl’s eyes in a colored girl’s face–Rachel confronts the challenge of being biracial in a black-and-white world.

I find it nearly impossible to talk about this book in detail without revealing too much; it’s one of those novels that you just have to read for yourself, but I will say that Heidi Durow masterfully pieces together a story that offers a culturally diverse perspective on America’s constructions of race and ethnicity. Alternating between the points of view of Rachel, her parents, her mother’s former employer, and James, AKA “Brick” (the only witness to the tragity of the family who fell from the sky), Durow challenges us to withhold judgement on the characters’ actions and, in so doing, confront our own prejudices.

The ending disappointed me a bit–it didn’t feel much like an ending–but I think with a story like Rachel’s, that’s the point. She’s a survivor, and
if the story is about her future, it should be that way, open, limitless, like the sky into which she was supposed to have disappeared.

I thought it had some interesting similarities to Tony Morison’s /The Bluest Eye/, except that while Picola knows what she wants–white skin and blue eyes–Rachel
lives in a world where white and color blur and swirl until neither she nor anyone else is entirely sure where they belong. Rachel is caught in the gray
area between black and white–she is that gray area, and not knowing where she belongs conveys a simple, but powerful message: that skin color does matter,
and at the same time, it doesn’t; it matters if you choose to make it a defining characteristic; it doesn’t if you see it for what it is–just a covering,
something that can be pealed off as easily as a mask.

IF you’re looking for a novel that offers a thought-provoking interrogation of the ways in which race and skin-color are cultural connstructs as much as
physiological traits, I highly recommend this one!

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