Five perspectives on a single tragedy with life-changing results for those directly and peripherally involved merge to tell the story of Rachel Morse, a young biracial girl who quite literally falls from the sky one day.
Jamie is a young boy growing up in the projects of Chicago. He is a budding ornithologist who keeps vigil at a window overlooking the barren wasteland of an inner city courtyard. Clutching a stolen library copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds, he hopes to one day see something other than garbage bags fly past. This hobby provides him an escape from the noises that emanate unceasingly from his junkie mother’s nearby bedroom where she entertains her male “friends.”
On this particular day, Jamie is sure he has seen the shadow of a great egret fly by and rushes downstairs, eager to add this bird, exotic to the ghetto, to his life list. His hopes are dashed when he arrives to find the dead bodies of a baby, a little boy and their mother. The fourth body is still breathing and thus he first encounters Rachel, the young girl at the center of this novel.
Rachel is the daughter of Roger Morse, a black GI stationed in Europe, and Nella, the Danish woman he met and married there. Nella and Roger’s life together as a family has been devastated by tragedy and alcohol. A pregnant and sober Nella leaves Roger and follows her new boyfriend to the strange land of America and Chicago where she struggles to find a place in the world (alcohol free) not only for herself, but also for her mixed-race children.
Laronne Warner is a librarian who had hired Nella only four weeks before. She has barely gotten to know Nella when her new hire fails to show. After several phone calls, Laronne goes to check on her and discovers the details of the young woman’s demise. She takes it upon herself to begin clearing out the apartment and collecting money for the surviving child, Rachel. As she packs boxes, she uncovers Nella’s journals detailing her path to sobriety, America and, ultimately, her death.
Upon recovery, Rachel is taken to Portland where she begins building a new life in the home of her grandmother and Aunt Loretta, and discovering more about exactly who she is --- this young black girl who speaks Danish. Through Rachel’s voice, we hear how she finds her way. The black girls don’t like her; she is too smart, too “light skinned-ed,” and they chide her for her hair whether it is short or long. The white boys like her, but only for secret kisses in a church nave that no one can know about.
It is also through Rachel’s voice, Roger’s voice and the few sparse entries from Nella’s diary (the fifth voice) that we learn about the alcoholism that has tormented this family generation to generation. Not only did her parents struggle with the disease, but throughout the novel her grandmother’s daily “contributions” progress from a few sips a day to a few bottles a day. A relationship with alcohol and how it fits into her life is another thing Rachel must discover for herself.
It was a tragedy unfortunately not uncommon these days --- a desperate mother whose misplaced love costs an entire family their lives. This is an interesting book about how the act that becomes a newspaper article buried on page five, readable in two minutes, can impact the lives of people who could have blinked, looked away and forgotten all about it. Because there are those who can’t, there is THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY.
Reviewed by Jamie Layton on January 22, 2011
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky