A timely and moving bicultural coming-of-age tale, based on a true story and told by an author who has struggled with the same issues as her protagonist.
The daughter of a Danish immigrant and a black G.I., Rachel survives a family tragedy only to face new challenges. Sent to live with her strict African-American grandmother in a racially divided Northwest city, she must suppress her grief and reinvent herself in a mostly black community. A beauty with light brown skin and blue eyes, she attracts much attention in her new home. The world wants to see her as either black or white, but that's not how she sees herself.
Meanwhile, a mystery unfolds, revealing the terrible truth about Rachel's last morning on a Chicago rooftop. Interwoven with her voice are those of Jamie, a neighborhood boy who witnessed the events, and Laronne, a friend of Rachel's mother.
Inspired by a true story of a mother's twisted love, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky reveals an unfathomable past and explores issues of identity at a time when many people are asking, "Must race confine us and define us?"
On a windy morning in Chicago, 11-year-old Rachel falls from the rooftop of a six-story building to her certain death. Her mother and two siblings also fall, but Rachel is the sole survivor. Witnessing the tragedy is her neighbor Jamie, a boy who’s trying to make sense of his own disheveled childhood.
Rachel, the biracial daughter of now-deceased Nella, a Danish immigrant, and Roger, a black man in the U.S. armed forces, is sent to live with her grandmother in Portland, where she struggles with her identity coming of age in an all-black community.
Meanwhile, the mystery unfolds of what really happened on that rooftop in Chicago — was it an accident? Suicide? Murder? Only Rachel knows for sure, but Jamie and Laronne, a friend of Nella’s, are left in Chicago to try and uncover the events leading up to that horrible day.
Told from the different perspectives of Rachel (performed by Emily Bauer), Laronne and Jamie (performed by Karen Murray), and Nella (performed by Kathleen McInerney), this story’s layers are even richer thanks to the variety of voices. Bauer, however, does a great disservice to Rachel’s character. In trying to emulate how a child would sound, her enactment is breathy and weepy. The nasal, whimpering quality to her voice can be grating, when she could have let the well-written words speak for themselves through subtlety. When Bauer switches to the voices of characters speaking to Rachel, she transforms easily and it’s a relief. But Murray shines as Laronne and Jamie. She also embodies enough of the characters to let the depth and pain of the story come through, but doesn’t overwhelm the piece with her acting.
If you’re able to get past Bauer’s interpretation and listen to the heart of this novel, it’s an important and eye-opening commentary on race, love, and growing up in world where you don’t quite fit in. —Colleen Oakley
“[A] breathless telling of a tale we’ve never heard before. Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect.” (Barbara Kingsolver)
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