On a windy morning in Chicago, 11-year-old Rachel falls from the rooftop of a six-story building to her certain death. Her mother and two siblings also fall, but Rachel is the sole survivor. Witnessing the tragedy is her neighbor Jamie, a boy who's trying to make sense of his own disheveled childhood.
Rachel, the biracial daughter of now-deceased Nella, a Danish immigrant, and Roger, a black man in the U.S. armed forces, is sent to live with her grandmother in Portland, where she struggles with her identity coming of age in an all-black community.
Meanwhile, the mystery unfolds of what really happened on that rooftop in Chicago was it an accident? Suicide? Murder? Only Rachel knows for sure, but Jamie and Laronne, a friend of Nella's, are left in Chicago to try and uncover the events leading up to that horrible day.
Told from the three different perspectives of Rachel, Laronne, and Jamie (performed by Karen Murray, Emily Bauer, and Kathleen McInerney respectively), this story's layers are even richer thanks to the variety of voices. Murray, however, does a great disservice to Rachel's character. In trying to emulate how a child would sound, her enactment is breathy and weepy. The nasal, whimpering quality to her voice can be grating, when she could have let the well-written words speak for themselves through subtlety. When Murray switches to the voices of characters speaking to Rachel, she transforms easily and it's a relief. But Bauer and McInerney shine as Laronne and Jamie. They also embody enough of the characters to let the depth and pain of the story come through, but don't overwhelm the piece with their acting.
If you're able to get past Murray's interpretation and listen to the heart of this novel, it's an important and eye-opening commentary on race, love, and growing up in world where you don't quite fit in. Colleen Oakley
A timely and moving bicultural coming-of-age tale, based on a true story and told by an author who has struggled with the same issues as her protagonist.
The daughter of a Danish immigrant and a black G.I., Rachel survives a family tragedy only to face new challenges. Sent to live with her strict African-American grandmother in a racially divided Northwest city, she must suppress her grief and reinvent herself in a mostly black community. A beauty with light brown skin and blue eyes, she attracts much attention in her new home. The world wants to see her as either black or white, but that's not how she sees herself.
Meanwhile, a mystery unfolds, revealing the terrible truth about Rachel's last morning on a Chicago rooftop. Interwoven with her voice are those of Jamie, a neighborhood boy who witnessed the events, and Laronne, a friend of Rachel's mother.
Inspired by a true story of a mother's twisted love, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky reveals an unfathomable past and explores issues of identity at a time when many people are asking, "Must race confine us and define us?"
©2009 Original material © 2009 Heidi W. Durrow. Recorded by arrangement with Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. (P)2009 (P) 2009 HighBridge Company.
"[A] breathless telling of a tale we've never heard before. Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect." (Barbara Kingsolver)
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"Prompts You to Examine Cultural Stereotypes"
I disagree with the other review that is posted in terms of the critique of the characters because I found their experiences and perspectives to be very thought-provoking. As I listened to the text, I didn't focus solely on the written (or spoken in this case) word. Instead, I took the opportunity to step into the shoes of various minorities and view the world through their eyes. What an enlightening encounter to peek into the lives of those who experience the world and differently than I.
With this approach, I found a realistic perspective of the ways in which my diverse group of students may experience the world and the stereotypes into which they are often placed by society. This was also an opportunity for me to examine my own unconscious perceptions of stereotypes. It is uncommon for a book to afford such an opportunity to its readers.
I would recommend this book to all educators, especially those who work with a diverse population of students. While I do agree with the other review in terms of the lack of development of the plot, I feel that this is midigated by the chance to view the world through someone else's experiences.
I never really believed the stories, or the characters. The 'pretend' mystery was not such a mystery in the end. Did she or didn't she jump? By the time the mystery is solved, this reader no longer cared.
None of the characters were developed in full and so we're left to wonder what on earth made them so messed up. So much of their misery (at least the adults) is self-inflicted, so it's hard to feel pity. The children turn out beautiful and talented anyway ("Brick", and Rachel).
This book would have been more effective as a short story. Indeed, it would have been more effective with an editor. When the author refers to "Jamie-who-was-really-James" for the thirteenth time in two paragraphs, I was gnashing my teeth with irritation!!
There was a lot of writing like this. "I'm making a point here, are you listening reader? because I'm being so erudite and stating things so poetically". The writing is very self-conscious, and the point the author was trying to make was never well realized in the characters or the plot. "It's hard to be of mixed race"? "It's hard to have been the victim of an attempted murder by a messed-up mother"? I lost interest in trying to figure it out. This book was unsatisfying.
I struggled with this book. Between the lackluster reading and writing, it was a bust.
Wonderful narration. This story really resonated with me since I have a 12 year old daughter.
"Sad and frustrating"
The course of events that frame this story are sad. All the other junk that gets piled on Rachel is just frustrating. By that I mean, it's frustrating to hear a story unfold and know that the characters are not getting what they truly need and even more frustrating that it does not have to be that way. Sometimes it feels like humanity has the same core story (with a myriad of variations) of hurt, dysfunction, loss of hope and that collectively we never learn and grow (I realize not all people or stories are dysfunctional, but too many still are). That lack of moving forward makes me sad for all of us.
"Book Club Choice and A Nice Surprise"
The ending seemed a bit disappointing. I would have liked to know more about what happened after they got a bit older.
decent , plain, acceptable
Enjoyed the sequence of events and the mysterious factor.
It has a purpose, probably educational. Someone trying to educate themselves on diversity might find it useful.
Sadness and disappointment.
I got this for my book club. I prefer to pleasure read.
Not my style of writting. Took a long time to get interesting. This was a book club selection and most of the members said that they did not finish the book because it was boaring. Did not grab your interest in first half of book so folks just could not muster the energy to complete it.
Not entirely, just need to work at building a compelling story that readers will find new and diffrent.
Can't remember. The whole experience was not memoriable.
Possibly, they can do a lot with acting and special effects these days.
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