Book Review: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

Thursday, 02 September 2010 14:27 Written by  Nicole Walker

How refreshing it is to read stories from voices seldom heard! In Heidi W. Durrow’s debut novel, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, the titular character speaks not only in a voice familiar to Black women but also shares the experiences of a growing population of people of color: the children of parents of both black and white heritage.

In The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Rachel finds that she must redefine who she is from the daughter of a Dutch-born White woman to a light-skinned, blue-eyed Black woman in this coming of age tale. She is sent to live with her Black grandmother after a tragedy claims the lives of the members of her family. Instead of dealing with the grief of losing the ones closest to her, Rachel is forced to recreate her idea of herself when she is confronted with new surroundings. bShe notes:

There are fifteen black people in the class and seven white people. And there’s me.

There’s another girl who sits in the back. Her name is Carmen LaGuardia, and she

has hair like mine, my same color skin, and she counts as black. I don’t understand

how, but she seems to know.

Is being Black the equivalent of being uneducated to Rachel? She struggles in an attempt to learn what “being Black” encompasses. Often, she lingers on her grandmother’s choice of words:

I want to put s’s on the ends of her words and not say “fixin to” when she’s about to do

something. The kids in school say that, and I know they’re not as smart as me.

She also hears the other children around her and tries to put together their assessment of her:

They have a language I don’t know but I understand. 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.

Later, Rachel learns that there are different ways of being Black, and she finds that she can identify herself in her Aunt Loretta, who has delicate wrists and perfect nails. Loretta has been a champion tennis player and has dreams of becoming an artist. Rachel also learns that her Black can buy her quite a lot of social capital. Boys will like her even if the girls despise her not only because of her light skin, hair and eyes but also because of her early development. Rachel’s situation is familiar to many women and not only ones who identify as Black.

There is an ever-present tension in her relationship with Grandma who never mentions her mother, not even to acknowledge that Rachel received her eyes. “You know Roger’s granddad had blue eyes,” she says. Yet, despite her gruffness, there is a sort of tenderness in her character. Durrow acknowledges the grandmothers who raise us with their hearts and try to protect us the best way they know how. Even without the particulars of Rachel and her grandmother’s relationship, we can all recall a certain smothering and growing apart between our caretakers and us during our trying teen years. We go along with Rachel as she tests her boundaries both understanding her need to do so and yet shaking our heads because we now know better.

The novel jumps back and forth through time as we try to unravel the mystery of the tragedy that took lives of her mother and siblings. We meet Jaime, or Brick as he later refers to himself, who witnesses the family fall from the sky, like odd, heavy birds whose wings had been clipped and bound. We ask ourselves why Robert, Rachel’s father, is not in the picture, as we try to suppress the stereotypical answers sounding in our heads. We meet Drew, Aunt Loretta’s beau, who reminds us of the important role of positive men in young peoples’ lives, especially for those who lack father figures.

The theme of “becoming” wraps its way through the novel. We follow Rachel from young child to young adult, wondering how much she will allow her past and her environment shape who she will become – if she has that kind of control at all. The sprinkling of Dutch words – Rachel refers to her mother as “Mor”— gives the character an authenticity she would otherwise lack. She wonders if she will forget all of her Dutch as she becomes what she calls “the new girl,” a girl who compresses her negative emotions in imaginary, colored bottles where they remain corked, never to be examined or explained. Present is the familiar theme of the quest for love, as Rachel searches to replace the love of her absent father in the boys around her. Durrow does an excellent job of being even-handed in her examination of this phenomenon. She allows the reader to see how a young girl becomes “fast,” as some would call her, rather than berating her after the fact. In Rachel, we find ourselves asking how much does our environment shape us and how much of the shaping do we do ourselves. Durrow does not posit an answer, but having laid out the possibilities, leaves us to ponder the answer for ourselves.

Perhaps one of the most captivating portions of the tale is the plight of Nella, Rachel’s mother, who is a white woman raising children of color on her own. The reader has a certain amount of sympathy for Nella who, because she is Dutch, is removed from the history of American race relations. Nella writes in her diary.

Today the woman at the kiosk was staring at us, and she said if the children father was black? Roger never was black. He was charming and fun and handsome… So many white women were dating NCOs with brown skin, and it was normal to me.

She later ruminates on how she can protect her children from a world that does not even recognize them as her own. Together we see the cries of a mother and a woman confronted with the reality of racial strife. It is a problem not lost on generations of black mothers who raise children to know that they are Black with all of the ramifications of that identifier; they must learn that they have social hurdles to overcome before they master long division. For White mothers like Nella, it is a new world to comprehend. Even those who know of the wounds from racial hatred learn through their brown children the depth of the cut.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky contributes a newer topic to the continuing racial discussions in this “post-racial” America.


Find out more about the author on her website!



Nicole's Facts: Nicole Walker has been a writer for 10 years and has had poetry published in the University of Georgia's Stillpoint literary magazine.  She is currently working on a short story collection. Contact Nicole at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Nicole Walker

Nicole Walker

Nicole Walker has been a writer for 10 years and has had poetry published in the University of Georgia's Stillpoint literary magazine.  She is currently working on a short story collection.

She can be contacted at