It’s not everyday I get to read a novel that’s set in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Let’s face it, if you’re from a big place like New York or Los Angeles or London there’s tons of stuff that’s set in your city. But my modest little burg hasn’t inspired a lot of fiction. (Television, of late anyway, seems to be another story. Both Grimm and Portlandia are set and filmed in Portland.) You do have Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic sci-fi novel The Lathe of Heaven. Likewise, you can make a strong argument that Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is also set in his hometown of Portland, judging by all the hints he drops throughout the novel. But when it comes to the ole 503 area code, it’s slim pickings.
Maybe that’s what finally made me read Heidi W. Durrow’s 2010 novel The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. Even though it inspired a ton of favorable reviews and was chosen as the 2012 Everybody Reads selection by my local public library, I never took the time to read it. But as I continue to branch out and read more fiction, it was hard for me to resist The Girl Who Fell from the Sky when I came across a copy of it during a recent library visit. I figured now was the time to finally read it. After all, it’s set in Portland.
And holy cow, it’s great.
In many ways it’s a coming of age novel. Set largely in Portland during the 80s, it tells the story of Rachel, a biracial girl and the offspring of a Danish mother and African-American father. After the death of her mother and Rachel’s siblings resulting from what appears to be a murder-suicide, she relocates to Portland to live with her paternal grandmother. As she tries to put the horrible family tragedy behind her, she also must come to grips with her own racial identity. Of course, like any young woman coming of age she must also deal with relationships, sexuality, authority and sense of purpose.
I enjoyed this novel for several reasons. One, it’s creative and well written. Two, it shifts perspective, frequently using flashbacks. Three, since it’s set in a place and during a time when I was coming of age, I found her novel a bit of homecoming. Therefore, I have no problems recommending this fine work of debut fiction.