The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow
Published: February 2010
Genre: adult, fiction
Summary: Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African-American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.
Mini Review: Durrow skillfully created a character who walks the fine line of diversity in 1980s Oregon. Rachel struggles to understand what it means to be biracial after having grown up in a home where race was never discussed. Mixed in with Rachel’s bildungsroman is a mystery regarding the death of her mother, and the ways the community came together for Rachel and her family across the years. Touching and eye-opening, this is a portrait of a young girl and society’s views of race, gender, economic standing, and physical beauty.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Publisher: Europa Editions
Published: September 2008
Genre: adult, fiction
Summary: In the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families, Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Then there’s Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma’s trust and to see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her.
Mini Review: The only proper way to describe this novel is “indulgent.” Renée and Paloma are both highly intelligent people, but while Renée sees the world with humor and wit, Paloma (yes, stereotypical) fails to see any beauty to make life worth living, and can sometimes be a pompous, pretentious bore (she’s precocious too (all the p-words!) but gosh…more pretentious than anything else). I enjoyed Renée’s observations of the world around her. When the Japanese man arrives, a plot appears and drives the book forward. But until then, sit back and people-watch with these two characters.
These books qualify as books 7 and 8 of 10 library books in 2016.