The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
What's good about this novel is first of all its point of view. Sections focus on different characters and the reader pieces together the plot by accretion. Early on Rachel talks about herself as a "new girl". She's the daughter of a black GI serving in Europe and a Danish woman she calls Mor (Danish for "mother") whom she loved and who is now gone, evidently due to some tragedy, one that left Rachel injured and in the hospital. Recovering at the beginning of the book, she is going to live with her grandmother--her father's mother--in Portland and is determined to put the past behind her and be a "new girl".
The grandmother is pretty traditional: living in a black neighborhood and going to a black church which is a huge part of her life and philosophy. She clearly hates the very idea of Rachel's mother and wants her to forget. What happened to her and to her parents only becomes clear in bits and pieces as the reader gets more into Rachel's experience as well as the experiences of others around her in the past and in the present. She's never been asked to choose which heritage she'll follow, but conventional ideas of race and class demand that she do so now.
But even though Rachel determines to embrace a new life, it's not that clear what direction she should take and how to get there. And so much is beyond her control. She
This book won the Bellweather prize in 2010, a prize started by Barbara Kingsolver and which rewards writers who handle issues of social justice. I suppose I don't quite approve of this kind of a prize, disliking the ideal of fiction (any are really) subordinated to or used primarily as a tool for ideas. Kingsolver is a talented novelist, and if I look at her oeuvre I can see the theme of social justice, but she always made her way in the amazingly competitive world of fiction as a "serious novelist" not as an advocate for social causes.