Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review | The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

I'm not sure what it is about Heidi Durrow's The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. It's not that anything about it was inherently bad, or even specifically disappointing. It is ultimately the fact that the novel failed to move me and felt so under-resolved that leaves me with a wholly empty feeling and a sense of "what was the point?"

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky has been praised for its presentation of a character growing up mixed race, essentially growing up neither here nor there. Indeed, this would have been enough to set main character Rachel apart. Yet on top of this, Rachel has a troubled and traumatic past that is mostly revealed through different point-of-view chapters (essentially flashback chapters). These two heavy concepts alone should be enough to fill a couple hundred pages, but Durrow also tacked on multiple other threads that weakened the stronger parts of the novel.

The first major theme - that of growing up mixed race and never quite fitting in - is by far the novel's strongest. Durrow handles the racial issues deftly, using some familiar ideas and a couple new ones to emphasize Rachel's struggles. For example, Rachel's musings over her hair, her struggles with accepting it one way or another (and comparing it to her white mother's hair) felt entirely real and believable. Or how she couldn't just forget half of her origins - shown thr
oughout the book in her effort to retain her mother's Danish tongue. In these moments, Rachel truly came alive as a young woman struggling to find her identity in a society that generally views matters in a binary.

From here, though, Durrow's ideas and themes start to fall apart a bit. There was a muddled theme about redemption and drugs somewhere near the end of the book, but it utterly failed to lift off. Themes of alcoholism similarly seemed to come apart quickly. Meanwhile, the secondary plotline - that of the family tragedy that leads Rachel to live with her grandmother in the first place - didn't leave much of an impact on me. It felt much more like a straight-up plot device than an actual opportunity for character growth or development. Finally, Durrow's sharp turn towards focusing on sexuality in the latter half of the novel felt oddly out of place and did little to further either the story or character development. I have seen many readers praising the inclusion of this theme, however I found it to be in an awkward middle-ground - not given enough space to properly grow, but also intrusive to the core of the novel.

As a character herself, Rachel generally felt underdeveloped. True, the novel is a relatively short one, but in that time I didn't feel like I could understand her motives or many of her decisions. She seemed to exist in a bubble that occasionally ran tangent to the story, but was really disconnected from it. And that doesn't make sense for the main character (and generally the narrator) of a novel. The other characters didn't feel particularly better developed, though at least with them I felt as though their behavior was a bit clearer and less drawn from nowhere.

The strength of a novel like this could (and should) have been rescued by Durrow's writing. Alas, it was not exactly to my taste - neither crisp enough to compensate for occasionally awkward turns of phrase, nor beautiful enough to make up for my general disinterest in the characters. It's the sort of writing I know many readers enjoy, but it didn't thrilled and it didn't moved me, leaving very little impression.

Overall, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is an interesting novel with quite a bit of potential that just didn't live up to my expectations. I appreciated the messages it tried to get across, however I think Durrow attempted to tackle too many ideas in too short a book, ultimately leaving each one lacking for it. Besides the notable racial themes, nothing was particularly worthwhile about the book - not the characters, nor the writing, nor the way the premise played out. I can see how readers who prefer a writing style like Durrow's might have had a much greater appreciation for the book than I had, but I personally wouldn't be able to recommend it to readers.

1 comment:

  1. It does indeed sound like there's too much in it. Maybe short stories would've worked better? I like the idea of it, and the major theme, but yes, you want just one or two in a short book.

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