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.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
The Inn at Lake Devine
Elinor Lipman (Adult Fiction)
“It was not complicated, and, as my mother pointed out, not even personal: They had a hotel; they didn’t want Jews; we were Jews.”
In the summer of 1962, Natalie Marx’s mother mailed about a dozen inquiries to various cottages and inns along Vermont’s Lake Devine. All came back with the standard rate card and cordial note. All, that is, but one. “Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles” was neatly written on textured white stationery. This act of blatant and brutal honesty ignites young Natalie’s quest to seek justice and acquire vindication and understanding.
This book was an engaging read, but seems to fall victim to its own misleading marketing. On the cover, it’s touted as a “witty romantic comedy”. While there are spots of flirtatious frolicking, describing it as a Romcom might be a bit of a stretch. Also, in the synopsis, we’re led to believe that Natalie encounters “a small bastion of genteel anti-Semitism” at this particular lakeside inn. In reality, it is only one individual who openly exhibits this prejudice. Ironically, we find out that Natalie’s own family is not immune to their fair share of prejudice, which proves to be far more damaging to Natalie than what she experienced at Lake Devine.
Lipman gives us a charming book with enough plot twists and interesting characters to keep the reader’s interest. However, don’t expect “a tale of delicious revenge” as one reviewer stated on the back cover. Rather, The Inn at Lake Devine is a light read, which can be made even more enjoyable if sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking a lake.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Susan Crandall (Adult Fiction)
“Whistling past the graveyard. That’s what Daddy called it when you did something to keep your mind off your most worstest fear…”
Starla Claudelle is nine and growing up in 1963 Mississippi. At the age of three, she is abandoned by her mother, who is busy chasing dreams of country music stardom in Nashville. Her father works months on end on an oil rig in the Gulf, which leaves the responsibility of her care and upbringing to her strict and overbearing paternal grandmother, Mamie. On the fourth of July, Starla decides to run away from home—convinced that if she locates her mother, she will have a real family once again. Along the way, she gets a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white infant. Together, they embark on an extraordinary road trip that will change both of their lives forever.
Not since Francie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith) have I delighted in a literary heroine so thoroughly. Starla is sassy, plucky, loyal, reckless, and fearless. Because of her youth and naiveté, she often makes decisions based on her heart rather than her head, ultimately leading her into some precarious situations. However, Starla’s spunk and spirit are endearing and allow the reader to readily forgive her of these seemingly foolish transgressions. The story has a nice and steady pace, the main characters have heart, and Starla’s narration is full of honesty, humor, and charm. A truly enjoyable read that will undoubtedly find a spot on our Best Of list at the end of the year.