Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"The Girl Who Fell From the Sky"

Heidi W. Durrow has won the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Chapter One Fiction Contest. She has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the American Scandinavian Foundation, and the Lois Roth Endowment and a Fellowship for Emerging Writers from the Jerome Foundation. Her writing has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, the Literary Review, and others.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a coming-of-age story that’s part mystery and part love story. Chosen by Barbara Kingsolver for the Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change, the novel centers on Rachel, the daughter of a Danish immigrant and a black G.I., who loses her family in a tragic accident that she survives. She goes to live with her African-American grandmother as she struggles to overcome her sorrow and make sense of a new racial identity in her new home where she is forced to choose: is she black or white?

The book is told from multiple perspectives including each of Rachel’s parents’, a neighbor boy who witnesses the accident, and of course Rachel herself.

When she first arrives at her grandmother’s, Rachel—whose story is the only one told in first-person present tense--thinks of herself as the “new girl.” And she finds that dealing with her feelings of loss and longing are often too much to bear. So she comes up with a way to process all those big difficult feelings: “When something starts to feel like hurt, I put it in this imaginary bottle inside me. It’s blue glass with a cork stopper. My stomach tightens and my eyeballs get hot. I put all of that inside the bottle.”

On Page 69, Rachel has been living with her grandmother for several months. It’s the end of the school year and she’s running in the big race for the school-wide “Olympics.” The scene, as described on Page 69, very much typifies Rachel’s struggle throughout the book. Here is Page 69 in its entirety:
“The medal ceremony is in the middle of the football field so everyone can see. I go to the center of the field. It is Carmen LaGuardia, the Student Class President, who gives me the blue ribbon and medal I will wear home that afternoon. I imagine how she will put the blue ribbon with the golden saucer-sized medallion around my neck. Gently, gently. Then smooth the front of my shirt with a long soft stroke. She will take my hand and raise it in victory and everyone will see that the beautiful Carmen LaGuardia is just like me. She is no longer one of the 15. And I will no longer count myself as one.

These are the first words she says to me: “Mmmmh, girl. You got them boys pantin with your titties all hanging out like that. Don’t try to steal my man with those.” Tamika is second place and bends at the waist laughing. She is still bent over when Carmen LaGuardia puts the smaller medallion around her neck and then gives her a high-five. I don’t cry. I have the blue bottle. I make resolutions. I turn twelve next month. It’s Day 223. I’m the new girl. I must be the new girl. I will fill myself with the color blue.”

Excerpt from The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books) by Heidi W. Durrow
Read another excerpt from The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, and learn more about the book and author at Heidi W. Durrow's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue