Rachel, the protagonist of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, is the daughter of an African-American serviceman and a white Danish mother. American literature loves to pigeonhole ethnicity, and, as we learn when Rachel talks about her favorite library, there aren't many books about the mixed-race experience:

There's a new black literature section. It's four whole shelves. I found one book of poetry about a girl who has a white father and a black mother. I have never read anything like that before.

Sky owes a spiritual debt to those few books that have come before, like Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and, especially, Nella Larsen's classic novel Passing, about a black woman pretending to be white. And in fact, Sky has echoes of Passing all through it (in a clever bit of literary horseplay, Rachel's mother is even named Nella). But in the same way that Rachel chafes at being labeled (even as she learns to answer intrusive questions about being "light-skinned-ed" by saying, "I'm black... My grandfather's eyes are this color"), her story is about more than just race.

Sky is a time-fractured mystery told by a cast of rotating narrators, and it centers on the aftermath of a mysterious event: Rachel fell, or was pushed, from the top of an apartment building in Chicago. She miraculously survived the incident, which killed most of the rest of her family, and she moves in with her grandmother and begins again in a black neighborhood in Portland, even as her old neighbors in Chicago try to piece together what happened on the morning she fell. It's very much a first novel—the back-and-forth structure of the storytelling at times feels a bit overtaxed and precious—but it's a successful first novel in the vein of The Lovely Bones or Getting Mother's Body. recommended

Heidi W. Durrow reads Thurs Feb 18, Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, free.