Rachel Morse literally fell from the sky. The sole survivor of a fall from the rooftop of a Chicago apartment building, which took the life of her mother, Nella, brother Robbie and sister Ariel. Rachel must now navigate a new life with her grandmother in Portland, Oregon circa 1982. How and why this happened is part of the underlying mystery throughout the novel by Heidi W. Durrow.
Rachel is the blue-eyed daughter of a Danish woman and a black military officer, Roger. Nella leaves Roger for another man, settling in Chicago. Their new life together is cut short by that tragic fall. A young boy named Jamie struggles to find his voice after witnessing the tragedy. When Jamie finds his voice again, he transforms himself into 'Brick' -- a stronger version of himself who will one day find and help Rachel overcome her past. Brick's path to Rachel is not without strife, drug abuse takes him over before he can truly move on.
Rachel's new life in Portland is not without challenges. To the kids at school, she is the 'light-skinned-ed' girl who 'talks' and acts white. She fights the impulse to correct every one's speech but doesn't because then Rachel could be accused of "acting white." Rather than fight back, Rachel bottles up her 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." -- Before life in Portland, Rachel didn't see color, but now it is everywhere even at home. As far as her grandmother and Aunt Loretta are concerned, Rachel's mother (Mor: Danish for Mom) doesn't exist. She didn't amount to much and they don't want Rachel to follow in Nella's footsteps.
As a teenager, she reconnects with Brick, but isn't sure how to act around him or even talk to him. "... I can forget that Brick's black. Or Brick's something like that. I don't ask Brick what he is. Brick is light-skinned with golden colors in his brown eyes. He could be black or Mexican or mixed like me. He's twenty-five and maybe at that age it doesn't matter." Without knowing his race, perhaps it's hard to truly know who he is.
In the beginning I felt a little detached from Rachel. It takes some time to learn why Rachel is so guarded. The novel is told from several different perspectives -- Rachel, Brick, Nella, Roger and Nella's co-worker Laronne. As a reader, sometimes I can't stand it when a story is told by several characters, but with Durrow's writing it works. The different perspectives help fill in the holes in Rachel's past. To me, Laronne serves as Nella's moral compass. Nella goes around calling her children "My little jigaboos," not realizing it's a racial slur until Laronne points it out. Laronne helps Nella to see the world a little more clearly. To Nella her children are a gift, but Laronne forces her to realize the potential dangers they face -- the No. 1 being racism. Rachel's character comes full circle when that blue bottle holding her feelings burst, but fortunately someone is there to catch her. By the end, I'm not sure if Rachel has found her true identity, but it was enjoyable journey to read.
Notes: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information on Heidi W. Durrow, go to http://heidiwdurrow.com/