Heidi Durrow’s novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, is told from multiple perspectives, moving between the present and different moments in the past. It is the heartbreaking story of a young girl who survived a fall from the nineth floor of an apartment building.
It is 1982 and eleven-year-old Jamie lives with his drug addicted mother in a Chicago apartment. Jamie loves watching birds. When he believes he has seen a very large bird fly past his window, he runs outside to find it. But what he finds is not a bird at all. Jamie finds what seems to be a family that has fallen from the sky. He recognizes them as a family that lived in his building. The boy’s legs are crumpled, and his sister lies on top of him. The mother and baby lie nearby. Jamie cannot look away from the tragic scene. Days later, Jamie speaks with a reporter and says he saw a man on the rooftoop and that his name is Brick.
Weeks later, in Portland, Oregon, Rachel is walking from the hospital to the bus stop with her grandmother. Rachel has just been transferred here from Chicago. Rachel is the lone survivor of the “accident” in Chicago. She has lost her mother, Nella, and her brother and sister, she longs for the past when they lived on the military base in Germany with their father.
At her grandmother’s house, Rachel puts on a front of being all right. She claims that she is ready to be a “new girl”. Inside, however, she is still hurting and hiding all of her feelings in what she imagines is a blue bottle inside of her that she can keep “capped." Her Aunt Loretta also lives with them. she is kind and a good mentor for Rachel. Loretta is educated, and has career aspirations. Grandma just wants the girls to be well behaved and to get married.
On her first day at her new school, Rachel notices that there are fifteen black kids and seven white kids in her sixth grade classroom. Rachel is bi-racial and does not know where she fits in. This is the first time in her life she has felt that it matters. The black girls do not like her because she is smart and pretty. She also becomes physically involved with a boy named Anthony Miller. Rachel likes the way being with Anthony makes her feel. Rachel chooses to define herself as a good student. She does not attempt to fit in anywhere else.
In Chicago, Laronne, who was Nella’s employer, has accepted the task of cleaning out the apartment and packing boxes. She packs one box for Rachel and includes a newspaper article that states that witnesses saw a man on the rooftop at the time of the accident. She hopes this may offer Rachel some assurance that her mother loved her. Laronne also comes across Nella’s journals. The journal entries are shared throughout the novel, and reveal that Nella was beside herself with worry about her children. Before she came to Chicago, she did not realize that the color of their skin could cause her children harm. Nella is distraught about the racism she encounters and she feels she will never be able to keep the children safe and happy. Her despair has made her desperate.
Jamie, now Brick, decides to visit Rachel at the hospital and he meets Roger, Rachel’s father. Rachel is still unconscious, but Roger and Brick bond. Roger teaches Brick to play the harmonica, a special song Roger has been playing for Rachel. Roger explains to Brick that before Rachel was born, he and Nella had a little boy whose name was Charles. Charles died in a fire caused by a cigarette Roger dropped when he was passed out drunk. Roger is leaving Rachel behind because he thinks he cannot be a good father, he asks Brick to share the story about Charles with Rachel.
After the police show up asking questions weeks later, Brick is worried about getting in trouble and decides to run away. He buys a bus ticket to Kansas City. Brick knows that Rachel has moved to Portland and he hopes to catch up with her. Brick lives on the streets and survives on the kindness of strangers. A young drug addicted couple...
(The entire section is 1,385 words.)