Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing tells the moving story of a young black woman who decides to pass for white, and the story ends with the woman falling or being pushed out of a window to her death. Heidi Durrow has said that Larsen, who, like Durrow, is half black and half Danish, is one of her literary heroes, and the mother of the main character in Durrow’s 2011 bestseller The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is named Nella. Durrow’s Nella has a daughter, Rachel, who is half Danish and half black, and it is this girl, Rachel, whose story is related in The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. Hers is a story that offers homage to Nella Larsen’s work, as well as bears witness to an actual story that Durrow read about, a recent true story of a mother who fell, or jumped, from the top of a building while holding her children; only a daughter survived.
In The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Nella jumps from a tall building with her children, and her surviving daughter is Rachel. After her mother and siblings die and her father leaves for good, Rachel moves across the country to be raised by her black grandmother and aunt. Rachel’s black family was never interested in knowing her Danish mother, and now that her mother has died in such a troubling way, the grandmother no longer need pretend to care about her. In this way, Rachel spends her teenage years living with a side of her family she barely knows while trying not to forget her much-loved and mysterious mother.
This is a touching story about growing up, about family secrets, about race and love and connection. It’s a story that originated in a number of true and fictional events, and it leads us to truths we may not have considered before.
Recommendation: Recommended; Ages: 12–18
Reviewer: Maggie Trapp
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2011