The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Heidi W. Durrow (Adult Fiction)

Rachel Morse is eleven years old and living with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Oregon.  Born to a Danish mother and an African-American GI father, she finds herself caught between two very different worlds and struggles to find a place somewhere in the middle.  However, it is the early 1980s and Rachel is often forced to choose between black and white: “I see people two different ways now: people who look like me and people who don’t look like me.”  She builds her world around “last-time things” (like speaking Danish or saying Mor, which means mother) and “first-time things” (like feeling shame or excluded) and lives each day storing her anger and hurt inside an imaginary bottle.  Fighting against a tragic past and facing an uncertain future, will Rachel have to give up one part of herself in order to embrace the other?

Durrow gives us a haunting and heartbreaking coming-of-age story about a biracial girl desperately trying to find her place in the world.  Like Rachel, Durrow’s mother was Danish, her father was a black serviceman, and she possesses a set of piercing-blue eyes.  We can see what Durrow must have dealt with as we see Rachel longing to fit in and be accepted.  Rachel’s backstory is tragic and unimaginable and one can only imagine the inner strength our young heroine possesses in order to avoid a fate like her mother’s.  The beginning of the book is a little confusing as Durrow floods the reader with several characters in various situations across different points in time.  The storyline eventually smooths out, but then you begin to understand the meaning behind the title.  This launches the story in an unpredictable direction and the pace never slows from there.

Perhaps the most distressing storyline belongs to Nella, Rachel’s mother.  A Danish immigrant, she is unused to the treatment her biracial children face in America (her marriage was generally accepted in Europe).  As a mother, she loves her children unconditionally and vows to protect them at all costs.  She is broken by the injustices thrown at her children and wonders why people are unable to see her children as she does: “My children are one half of black.  They are also one half of me.  I want them to be anything.  They are not just a color that people see.”

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is haunting and harrowing.  It is not one of those feel-good books that is wrapped up in a pretty bow.  Instead, we are given a story that is raw and poignant and uncomfortably ugly but honest.  Under anyone else’s pen, the reader might be left with a sense of hopelessness, but Durrow is, in a sense, telling us her own story which, at its very core, is a story of survival.  A story where a girl refuses to be boiled down to simply this or that.  She is more than just the sum of her parts and her acceptance of this is enough to give us a relatively satisfying ending.  As Rachel says, “I’m not the new girl.  I’m not the color of my skin.  I’m a story.  One with a past and a future unwritten.”  And with that, the girl who fell from the sky realized that she had wings and could fly.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

…and now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (J)

And Now Miguel

…and now Miguel    

Joseph Krumgold (Juvenile Fiction)

“I am Miguel.  For most people it does not make so much difference that I am Miguel.  But for me, often, it is a very great trouble.”

Twelve-year-old Miguel is a Chavez and in the Chavez family there is always one thing—sheep.  To raise sheep is the work of the family.  Wherever you find a Chavez man, you’ll find a flock of sheep.  Miguel lives near Taos, New Mexico and is straddled between two brothers who have it easy: little Pedro is small and has all that he wants and big brother Gabriel is old enough that anything he wants he can get.  But being Miguel is not so easy.  What he wants, what he truly desires, is to go to the Sangre de Cristo mountains where the Chavez men take the sheep to graze each summer.  But year after year, Miguel is left behind.  How can he prove to his father that he is finally ready for this responsibility?  But since he is only Miguel, he knows that this will not be an easy thing to do.

…and now Miguel is based on actual people whom Krumgold spent time with and got to know.  Hearing him tell Miguel’s story and his desire to prove himself worthy to a father he adores and respects is intimate and personal.  The reader deeply connects with Miguel as he attempts to be needed and longs to make a difference.  Miguel’s biggest obstacle is not his will or desire, but simply time.  As his mother once said to him, “To become something different from what you are, it takes more than being strong.  Even a little time is needed as well.”  How often do we find ourselves pursuing opportunities that we know we aren’t ready for?

This story has so many positive messages and relatable situations for young readers (aged ten and above).  Unfortunately, it does lag quite a bit near the end when Miguel and Gabriel discuss the strengths and weaknesses of making a wish, which is actually the two coming into their own spiritual awakening through the recognition of Devine intervention and providence.  This was a weighty and lengthy dialogue between the two that could have been greatly condensed and had the same effect.  Although this is a pivotal moment for the two brothers, the momentum of the story ultimately suffered and was never able to fully recover.

Miguel reminds us that things don’t always go the way we wish or plan for life always seems to get in the way somehow.  Big surprises or unexpected announcements are never delivered or received in the way in which we hope.  Miguel is a deeply devoted boy who, in the end, realizes that his life—his fate—is not in his control.  He must rely on his faith in knowing that everything will work out as it should.  His mother and father understand this, Gabriel understands this…and now Miguel will understand this and will realize that by him just being Miguel has already made a great difference.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com 

 

 

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (YA)

Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite  

Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Young Adult Fiction)

Lupita knows that her Mami has a secret that she is hiding from her and her seven siblings.  She hears her talking with her comadres in their hushed words and sees their furtive glances.  Something is different.  Something is wrong.  Then Lupita hears the word that Mami keeps tucked behind closed doors…”cancer”.  Suddenly, Lupita has to deal with her mother’s chemo treatments, her best friend’s sudden ridicule, and her upcoming 15th birthday.  Through it all, she has her writing.  For a brief moment, Lupita is able to block out the world and find solace as she pours out her feelings under the sanctuary of her family’s mesquite tree.

McCall gives us inspiration through tragedy as she delivers a compelling story written entirely in free verse.  Although this is a quick read (a slow read is encouraged), the author provides an enormous amount of depth, detail, and emotion by using just a few words proving that less is indeed more.

I enjoyed seeing Lupita go between her homeland of Mexico and her current home in the United States.  McCall’s use of Spanish words throughout the book gives the story a richness that allows us to totally immerse ourselves in Lupita’s culture and world.  These two halves of her life are very different, but somehow fit seamlessly to give us a whole girl who is headstrong, caring, and mature beyond her years.

In the beginning of the story, a mesquite tree unexpectedly grows in the middle of Mami’s prized rose garden.  But over time, this intrusion is a welcomed and comforting presence.  Through pruning, the tree has grown to be quite lovely, but it is not its beauty that strikes Lupita.

“I envy the mesquite

its undaunted spirit, its ability to turn

even a disabling pruning

into an unexpected opportunity

to veer in a different direction,

flourishing more profusely than before”.

It would be wonderful if we were all just a little bit more like the mesquite tree:  growing stronger after being weakened, finding new opportunities through loss, and thriving wherever planted.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

 

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

Captains Courageous

Rudyard Kipling (Adult Fiction)

Harvey Cheyne is the spoiled, arrogant, and disrespectful son of a railway tycoon who, while on his way to Europe to complete his schooling, falls overboard into the Atlantic Ocean.  He is rescued by a fisherman and taken aboard the schooner We’re Here, where he quickly realizes that money, power, and social status matter little on the high seas.  Under the watchful eye of Captain Disko Troop, Harvey soon navigates his way not only through perilous oceans, but also through the turbulent lessons that come with life.

This is perhaps one of the finest stories about life on the sea ever written.  Kipling’s narration is masterful and the storytelling is superb.  The details of life on board a schooner are painstakingly described and detailed—right down to the last eye-bolt.  Every word is carefully chosen and crafted and the result is nothing short of poetic: “The dories gathered in clusters, separated, reformed, and broke again, all heading one way; while men hailed and whistled and cat-called and sang, and the water was speckled with rubbish thrown overboard.”

This book is truly deserving of the word “classic”; however, Kipling’s passion for authenticity often makes reading dialogue difficult at times.  His phonetic transcription of a New England dialect in the late 1800s is often tricky to decipher and comprehend (“furriner” for “foreigner”, “naow” for “now”, and “spile” for “spoil”), but it is this same commitment to genuineness that allows the reader to be wholly transported into a world dictated by the weather and ruled by the sea.  A coming-of-age book about loyalty, friendship, and love that truly gets better with time.

Rating: 5/5