Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

I know a lot of people who read Young Adult (YA) fiction. Most are mothers of middle and high school girls who started reading it because they wanted to share the reading experience with their daughters, or their daughters recommended specific titles to them, or they were just curious about what was out there. But I know this isn’t the full story; YA is too popular among adults to be only the province of a certain group of women. I have tried to read a few popular YA books without much success (including The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins and Un Lun Dun, by China Mieville). In most cases I just found it too difficult to identify with an adolescent narrator. Yet I have no trouble with J. K. Rowling’s books, so obviously it’s not always a problem for me.

I’m thinking about this recently because I just finished The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, which features an adolescent narrator, but which deals with sophisticated issues of identity, race, substance abuse, and depression. Now I am wondering what makes a book a YA novel? Is it the age of the narrator? The subject matter? Or just the marketing plan? I don’t know the answer.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is the story of Rachel, daughter of a Danish mother and an African American father. Raised in Europe, where her father was a career U.S. serviceman, Rachel must go live with her African American grandmother in Portland, Oregon after the death of her mother and siblings. It is there that she learns about being biracial as she navigates middle school, then high school, with her black hair and blue eyes. She must also deal with the loss of her mother--the circumstances of her death and the deaths of Rachel’s siblings add some mystery and drama to the story.

This is a quick read. Rachel is not a terribly complex girl. The more interesting characters are her grandmother and aunt, and the version of Rachel’s mother that we see filtered through the lens of Rachel’s memories. I got a little mixed up at the end of the book – were there some loose ends? Or did I just not read carefully enough? No matter -- I still enjoyed it a lot. I don’t believe this book is marketed as YA, but it would be an excellent choice for a high school reader, and even a mature middle schooler, and a good book for a mother and daughter to read together.

(Book 14, 2011)


Sarah Laurence said...

Very interesting post and thoughtful review!

I'm one of those adults who reads and now writes YA. My children introduced me to the genre, and then I was hooked. I love coming of age stories, and it's exciting to be writing in a genre that only just took off, following the commercial success of Twilight and of Harry Potter. The latter series is actually middle grade and not YA. These are just marketing categories.

There is a wide range of YA out there from the more commercial Hunger Games to the more literary works that win awards. Literary YA authors that I've enjoyed include Laura Resau, Beth Kephart, John Green and Melina Marchetta. Libba Bray's Great and Terrible Beauty had some similar elements to Harry Potter but is set in Victorian times with a feminist slant.

I interviewed the author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. Durrow answered that question about why it's adult literary fiction not YA:

Anonymous said...

Do you believe the book is age appropriate for 12 year olds? 7th graders? Keep in mind page 171 and let me know your thoughts

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