Monday, March 28, 2011

SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

It is 1980s Atlanta and Dana Lynn Yarboro has a secret.  Her father is a bigamist. James Witherspoon met Dana's mother, Gwen, when he was already married and fell in love with her.  When Gwen became pregnant, James took her across state lines and married her illegally. Now, Dana and her mother are James' secret family. They know about his legitimate family but the legitimate family doesn't know about them. James married his legitimate wife as a teenager when she got pregnant.  Although they lost that baby, years later they had a daughter named Chaurisse born four months after Dana.  Dana watches Chaurisse from afar year after year envying her the public family life and advantages that she has. Although James works very hard to keep his two families separate, the girls almost inevitably meet and strike up a friendship.  Chaurisse still doesn't know the truth but the friendship forces things to a heartbreaking climax and conclusion.

This is a story about two African-American families in Atlanta during the 80s who face very different truths about their lives. The choices that James makes has far-reaching consequences for everyone involved as they confront inequalities on many different levels. The first part of the book tells the story from Dana's point-of-view.  By the end of the first half, the reader is highly sympathetic to Dana and her mother. The second half of the book is told by Chaurisse and the change in perspective forces the reader to confront his/her view of the situation. Nothing is black and white.  No one will escape this situation unscathed.

This book is highly readable.  I couldn't put it down. I was fascinated by the situation and how everything was going to pan out. I was a little disappointed that the author didn't delve more into why each individual made the choices that they did. The story mostly stays on a surface level and the ending seemed to wrap up too quickly. I'm not sure I really believed in how everything turned out. However, the story really interesting and original and often heartbreaking. 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  This is a very different kind of book with a truly original story to tell. I thought the characters of Dana and Chaurisse were both really well done.  My only frustration was that I felt there was much more to tell. Especially in terms of the characters' motivations.

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