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Heidi Durrow’s novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, begins after Rachel Morse is released from a hospital in Portland, Oregon, with her grandmother with whom she is going to live. "I am caught in before and after time. Last-time things and firsts," Rachel narrates. On her first day of school in Portland, Rachel becomes aware of her unique appearance: she is bi-racial and has skin and hair like her African-American father, but the blue eyes of her Danish mother. Because she is pretty and different, Tamika Washington at school wants to "beat up" Rachel. Rachel now sees people two different ways, she narrates, "people who look like me and people who don't look like me." And, when people like Tamika hurt her feelings, Rachel says she has a blue bottle in which "Mad goes in there." But, she does not mention this bottle to Grandma or Aunt Loretta.
The narrative switches to a section entitled "Jamie." Jamie lived in the same building in Chicago as Rachel and her siblings and mother. One day Jamie sees something pass by the window; he discovers a mother and her three children on the ground; only the older girl is alive, Rachel. Jamie visits her in the hospital and there he later meets Rachel's father, Roger, who tells Jamie the tragic story about when he passed out from drink and his cigarette ignited a fire that killed his first son Charles. Roger wants Rachel to know that he is not going to take her because he is bad for his family; he also teaches Jamie songs on his harmonica.
The next section is entitled "Laronne" and is about the woman for whom her mother Nella worked at the college library. Laronne befriended Nella, but when a man with bright orange hair came to the library asking for Nella, Laronne called Nella and told her not to come anymore. Then, she learned of the jump from the top of the apartment building; she went to Nella's apartment and found the children's clothes and other belongings. She cut a hole in a coffee can lid and took up a collection for the family. Later, she talked with reporters, telling them that Nella loved her children.
The narrative returns to "Rachel" in more sections. The girl continues to struggle to adjust to her new life; she is encouraged by the example of her Aunt Loretta, who has fallen in love with a man named Drew, who likes Loretta because she is pretty, a good tennis player, and smart--a quality Rachel has not heard praised by men before. Drew draws "the happy" out of Loretta. At night Loretta comes home from the office where she works and reads. Grandma quibbles with Loretta sometimes about some young man in the past. Then, at school Rachel enjoys the antics of a student named Anthony Miller and lets him kiss her.
One day an old friend of Aunt Loretta's visits. She has gone on to college and become a lawyer. As she and Loretta have tea, Helen asks about Nathan, the former husband of Loretta who was a professional basketball player, but he cheated on Loretta, so she left him. Rachel narrates,
...for the first time I think that the smiling Aunt Loretta has middle layers like me. Maybe she's made herself into the new girl, too.
Rachel continues to struggle with her identity at the new school, and she becomes rather intimate with Anthony Miller. But, at school Rachel continues to be a good student, but has no real friends who are black; she still feels like an outsider.
Aunt Loretta grows closer to Drew, she returns to painting pictures and has Rachel pose for her. Then, she moves in with Drew, and Grandma heckles her about getting married. Rachel misses Loretta, but she gets more attention at school because she has had her straightened.By means of flashbacks Rachel narrates how Loretta cut her face from a fall, but the wrong kind of antibiotics caused her die. Grandma and Drew both really miss her; one day Drew comes to the house and brings his daughter Lakeisha with whom Rachel talks in her bedroom while Drew and Grandma have some drinks in the other part of the house. Drew gives Rachel a book that belonged to her mother, a book that Loretta kept; when she opens it, Rachel hopes to find a note from "Pop," but there is none.
Throughout the novel there are flashbacks and one of these describes how Laronne found the diary of Nella, who writes about her children, how she boxed up Rachel's things for her grandmother at the hospital, and how the police interrogated Jamie about the man that he saw on the night of the deaths of Nella and the children. After this, Jamie, who has changed his name to Brick, runs away from home because his mother is a drug addict and has all kinds of strange men in their home.
The neighborhood that Grandma lives in is changing and she is not happy. Grandma does not like Rachel's tight clothing and way of speaking and acting. Rachel comments,
Sometimes I think Grandma and Mor are two weeks of the same coin. They are two sides of a coin that I can hold in my hand at the same time.
Rachel argues with her grandmother because she is being promiscuous, and she is very offended by remarks her grandmother makes about her mother. Things go too far with Anthony Miller. And, still at school Rachel has problems adjusting.
Drew visits and takes Rachel to a blues concert; afterwards, he stays overnight, and Rachel remarks that the house has warmth and coziness in it. Drew gives Rachel a job at the center where he works; there she meets a young man named Brick, who is really Jamie. Brick has lied about his age so he can be taken in; for, he has been going across the country, relying on the kindness of others. Unfortunately for him, two panhandlers feed him and take him in, but they also give him drugs. making him an addict. Brick realizes that Rachel is the girl from Chicago. Rachel also meets Jesse, whose mother is from Norway, and they share some commonalities.
At home, Grandma drinks more and counts her coins that she has kept for years; they add up to more than two thousand dollars. She gives Rachel a coin from 1937, the year of her father's birth. Interspersed among the passages are replicas of the diary that Rachel's mother has written; she numbers each day.
One day Lakeisha, Jesse, Rachel, and Brick all go out together. They drink. but Brick does not; he and Lakeisha leave. Rachel and Jesse drink and engage in sex. The next weekend, Brick comes over and takes Rachel out to an amusement park. Before leaving, Rachel has read a letter from her father to her grandmother in which he tells his mother not to let Rachel know about him, so she is very upset. When they are on the Ferris wheel, Rachel feels she must stand up and nearly falls out; Brick catches her. He convinces her that she should live. He tells her about her father and his message. Rachel concludes to herself about that fateful day, "It was just one day, but I think for Mor, it seemed like Day 1."
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