‘She talks of that which she knows’ – The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W Durrow

Heidi W Durrow’s debut, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is one of those novels that feels like it should be ever so slightly better than it is. It’s good but – you sense, hovering around the edges – there could be greatness here. You certainly want greatness and you maybe think Durrow has greatness in her but – as far as The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is concerned – greatness remains ever so ever so just out of reach.

Told from a half dozen different perspectives – Rachel (a young girl who is going to live with her grandmother and her young aunt), Brick (a young boy who once lived in the same apartment complex as Rachel), Nella (Rachel’s mother), Roger (Rachel’s father) and Laronne (Nella’s boss) – the novel concerns the fall-out from a terrible incident, the incident from which the book takes its title, and runs, at times, in a non-linear way, such that we follow Rachel in her new life and learn about the events immediately following (the incident) from the other characters. This makes for a book of two halves in a way: Rachel’s bits are more straightforward as they address what it is like for a young biracial girl to grow up in an unfamiliar environment; the other story, which apparently came from a true story author Durrow read about in a newspaper, has more potential. We sit with Brick and Roger besides Rachel’s hospital bed, we read excerpts from Nella’s diaries, we glimpse the possibility of a mystery. Then, as Brick gets older and decides to move on, we wonder if the book will go in a completely unexpected direction – only for Durrow to tie her strands together in a fashion that is a little TV movie of the week.

Undoubtedly, Rachel’s experience of growing up as a biracial girl reflects Durrow’s own (she admits as much in an interview she did with NPR, repeated at the back of the book) and this is both a strength and a weakness: a strength because she talks of that which she knows, a weakness because, curiously (or perhaps not curiously) the parts of the story that are more obviously made up feel more interesting. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky shows promise, though, and Durrow is certainly an author to keep an eye on. Now that she’s got her debut out of the way and worked through a few things, who knows what she’ll come up with.

Any Cop?: It’s a little too neat and a little too pat (but it won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction so what do we know?) but for all that it shows promise. One to watch, perhaps.

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