Also known as possibly the saddest book I read in 2011. Or #5 in my last 15.
In the frantic last days of November I wandered into Inkwood Books and told one of the clerks that I needed a new book. I told her I was making an attempt to read 75 books and I wanted something a little different from what I’d already read that year. She, being a good bookstore worker, asked me about the books I’d read. I ran through the highlight reel: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Rules of Civility, The Book Thief (we had a brief discussion of Markus Zusak) The History of Love and I told her some of my favourite authors. It took a few minutes and I had my hands full of several vaguely interesting books until the moment when she realized “different” had been my key word. So she picked up The Girl Who Fell From the Sky and told me the basic premise:
“It’s based on a news story,” she said, “and sort of semi-autobiographical.”
“Okay,” I said.
“The story is about a bi-racial little girl whose mother throws herself and her children off the roof of a building and the little girl survives. It deals with her developing her identity after moving to her grandmother’s.”
“I’ll take it,” I said.
It’s parts coming-of-age, social/racial commentary, and orphan story. Having read Dickens’ David Copperfield earlier this year my mind immediately wants to make connections to the similar orphan story… the wandering nature of the child. It’s a story told in sections as the main character grows up and very, very slowly comes to terms with the hurt in her life.
Rachel, the main character, is given more than her fair share of tragedy at a very young age and continually during her years developing into a teenager. And the woman at Inkwood was right, the semi-autobiography is there. The reader is shown glimpses of a world between races through the eyes of a confused and hurt child and an insecure teenager. I found this particularly interesting. As children grow up they attempt to construct worldviews to explain the behavior around them. Rachel for the first time at 10 or 11 years old is introduced to the world of racism (having lived overseas before). It overwhelms her mother’s attempts to protect and is rooted in her grandmother’s behaviors. Rachel finds brief solace with her aunt, but spends much of the book trying to figure out where she fits in. She barely longs for the days before the fall because even that time she didn’t really understand.
A boy, also from Chicago, who holds a key to Rachel’s understanding of her life, makes his way from Chicago to Portland in order to tell Rachel what he knows. I found myself really interested in his part of the narrative. As well as Rachel’s mother’s diaries discovered by her friend Laronne.
The interweb is full of reviews of the book that are much better than mine. Like this one. But I have to say I was pleased with it. And even more so pleased with the service I received at Inkwood. I’d encourage you to read it, but be aware that it will take some guts. It’s not always a pleasant story, but it was definitely one worth telling.