The Girl Who Fell From the Sky Essay - Critical Essays

Heidi W. Durrow

Literary Criticism

Published in 2008, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is Heidi Durrow’s first and only novel. Like the character Rachel, Durrow is also the daughter of a bi-racial couple, a Danish mother and an African American soldier based in Germany. This intimate association with many of the same race-related issues Rachel faces make the reality that much more revealing and believable. The novel won the 2008 Bellwether Prize (founded by Barbara Kingsolver) for addressing awareness of cultural and social justice issues. Kingsolver herself states, "Out of the clear blue, here is a breathless telling of a tale we've never heard before. Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect, this book could not be more timely." While the race issues have certainly been heard before, in this novel they are framed and reflected upon in an entirely original story.

The novel has received mainly positive reviews from critics and readers who appreciate Durrow’s ability to create such vivid characters so poetically.

After reflecting on what she thought of as a mundane treatment of the racial issues, New York Times reviewer Louisa Thomas admitted, “It’s when it approaches the questions of identity and community more subtly and indirectly that The Girl Who Fell From the Sky can actually fly.” Rachel’s story is so tragic and heartbreaking that it really overshadows the social issues Durrow seems to address throughout the novel. Thomas also recognizes Durrow’s skill, noting that  “its energy comes from its vividly realized characters, from how they perceive one another. Durrow has a terrific ear for dialogue, an ability to summon a wealth of hopes and fears in a single line.”

Lisa Page from the Washington Post agrees. She adds that the novel is “not just a tale of racial ambiguity but a human tragedy.” However, Page also notes that there are parts of the story that seem a bit unrealistic, probably referring to the fact that Brick actually caught up with Rachel years later and over a thousand miles away. Page says, “She has crafted a modern story about identity and survival, although some of the elements come together a little too neatly.”

The novel received a starred review in Booklist. Donna Seaman wrote, “Durrow fits a striking cast of characters and an almost overwhelming sequence of traumas into this compact and insightful family saga of the toxicity of racism and the forging of the self.” Seaman asserts again that this is so much more than a commentary on race, or even a coming of age novel. Durrow creates characters so heartbreakingly real, and circumstances so tragic, that it is difficult not to be drawn into the story.