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Silver Sparrow Hardcover – May 24, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 455 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A coming-of-age story of sorts, Jones's melodramatic latest (after The Untelling) chronicles the not-quite-parallel lives of Dana Lynn Yarboro and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon in 1980s Atlanta. Both girls-born four months apart-are the daughters of James Witherspoon, a secret bigamist, but only Dana and her mother, Gwen, are aware of his double life. This, Dana surmises, confers "one peculiar advantage" to her and Gwen over James's other family, with whom he lives full time, though such knowledge is small comfort in the face of all their disadvantages. Perpetually feeling second best, 15-year-old Dana takes up with an older boy whose treatment of her only confirms her worst expectations about men. Meanwhile, Chaurisse enjoys the easy, uncomplicated comforts of family, and though James has done his utmost to ensure his daughters' paths never cross, the girls, of course, meet, and their friendship sets their worlds toward inevitable (and predictable) collision. Set on its forced trajectory, the novel piles revelation on revelation, growing increasingly histrionic and less believable. For all its concern with the mysteries of the human heart, the book has little to say about the vagaries of what motivates us to love and lie and betray. (May)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


“[An] expansive third novel…Jones effectively blends the sisters’ varied, flawed perspectives as the characters struggle with presumptions of family and the unwieldy binds of love and identity.”―Booklist

"A love story... full of perverse wisdom and proud joy....Jones's skill for wry understatement never
wavers."―O, The Oprah Magazine
(Library Journal)

“If your mom is a fan of emotionally charged morality tales (and whose mom isn’t?), she’s going to devour Tayari Jones’s third novel, Silver Sparrow, in a single sitting. Jones, a native Atlantan, once again mines her town for material and strikes serious pay dirt. Sparrow introduces us to sisters Dana Lynn Yarboro and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon, who were born four months apart from different mothers and have never met. One reason? Their father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist who has gone to great pains to ensure they remain in the dark about each other. And when they do meet, that’s when Sparrow gets really good.”―Essence
(Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“A graceful and shining work about finding the truth.” – Library Journal, starred review
(Los Angeles Times)

“A tense, layered and evocative tale...Jones explores the rivalry and connection of siblings, the meaning of beauty, the perils of young womanhood, the complexities of romantic relationships and the contemporary African-American experience.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
(The Today Show)

“Impossible to put down until you find out how these sisters will discover their own versions of family.”—Los Angeles Times
(The Root)

“It’s an amazing, amazing read.”—Jennifer Weiner on NBC’s “The Today Show”
(Washington Post)

Silver Sparrow is rich, substantive, meaningful. It is also, at turns, funny and sharp, haunting and heartbreaking.”—The Root

“Absorbing . . . Jones writes dialogue that is realistic and sparkling, with an intuitive sense of how much to reveal and when.”--Washington Post

“Tayari Jones's immensely pleasurable new novel pulls off a minor miracle... Subtly exploring the power of labels... Jones crafts an affecting tale about things, big and small, we forfeit to forge a family. There are no winners in this empathetic and provocative story, only survivors.”—MORE
(Atlanta Journal Constitution)

“Charting a vast emotional unknown is Tayari Jones's compelling third novel, Silver Sparrow, in which a teenage girl's coming of age in 1990s Atlanta is shadowed by her dawning understanding of a corrosive secret – her father's second family.” – Vogue
(The Oklanhoman)

“Nakedly honest...dazzlingly charged” —Atlanta Journal Constitution
(Vol. 1 Brooklyn)

“This is a heartbreaking story of two sisters, unknown to each other at first, who find and love each other for a short time in their lives.” – The Oklahoman
(Brooklyn Rail)

“This is a precisely written, meticulously controlled work. It’s also one that leaves room for the messiness of fragmented lives — an impressive command of the craft at hand, and its paradoxes.”—Vol. 1 Brooklyn
(Village Voice)

“Beautifully written, Silver Sparrow will break your heart.”—Brooklyn Rail

“[Jones] is fast defining middle-class black Atlanta the way Cheever did Westchester” – Village Voice

“Tayari Jones has taken Atlanta for her literary terroir, and like many of our finest novelists, she gives readers a sense of place in a deeply observed way. But more than that, Jones has created in her main characters tour guides of that region: honest, hurt, observant and compelling young women whose voices cannot be ignored . . . Impossible to put down until you find out how these sisters will discover their own versions of family.”
Los Angeles Times

“An amazing, amazing read.”
—Jennifer Weiner on NBC’s Today show

“Tayari Jones’s immensely pleasurable new novel pulls off a minor miracle . . . Jones crafts an affecting tale about things, big and small, we forfeit to forge a family . . . There are no winners in this empathetic and provocative story, just survivors.” —More

“A love story . . . Full of perverse wisdom and proud joy . . . Jones’s skill for wry understatement never wavers.” —O: The Oprah Magazine

“That Jones offers no pat answers is the secret sauce spicing Silver Sparrow. The prose goes down so compulsively that it might be easy to miss the heart of the story. She shines a light on a particular disenfranchised group, the children who grow up in second families.” —The Denver Post

“Populating this absorbing novel is a vivid cast of characters . . . Jones writes dialogue that is realistic and sparkling, with an intuitive sense of how much to reveal and when . . . One of literature’s most intriguing extended families.” —The Washington Post

“Jones gives us permission to love all of the novel’s women, though they are flawed and often refuse to love each other. That’s a recipe for great book club discussions.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565129903
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565129900
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (455 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,147,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Gay on May 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Silver Sparrow is a powerful and unforgettable book, full of soul and intelligence and is Tayari Jones's finest work which is saying something given the beauty of her earlier books. This is a novel where you know, from the first page, what the major tensions of the narrative are. You also get a sense of how the story will end. This is not to suggest that this novel is without its surprises or complexities; you will find both in this book. Nonetheless, Silver Sparrow is a book where how the writer leads the reader to an inevitable ending matters most. Normally, this approach of revealing so much of what is at stake in the early going might seem like a prescription for failure but such is not the case in what is a remarkable novel. Silver Sparrow is thoroughly engaging and although there is so much intense emotion driving the story forward, that emotion is expertly controlled, never becoming indulgent or melodramatic. We all come to reading for different reasons. I mostly read to be moved and engaged; with this book I very much was. I haven't been able to stop reading this book since I got my hands on a copy.

Silver Sparrow is the story of two daughters, Dana Lynn Yarboro and Chaurisse Witherspoon, the bigamist father they share, James Witherspoon, his might-as-well-be brother and shadow Raleigh, and the mothers of the two girls, Gwendolyn and Laverne. The backdrop is black, middle class Atlanta during the 1980s but there's also a lot of really interesting and difficult historical context brought into the novel to help explain how the adults, in particular, came to such a complicated pass. The writing is subtle, elegant and the exceptional attention to detail really elevates this book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is about people who have done well in their businesses, but their personal lives are train wrecks.

I guess every fiction book (or diet book, but that's another story), from Shakespear and Tolstoy on down is about people whose lives are in some way train wrecks - or you would have no plot, no conflict. So why were these train wrecks so unsatisfying?

The book was very well written, Dana and Chaurisse were compelling, sympathetic and well drawn, the story full of twists and turns and an original plot building up to a final confrontation, and the dialogue especially good. So why didn't this work for me?

This book felt like the kind of friend's divorce I'm sure everybody has seen - when it first erupts you're sympathetic, fascinated, supportive and frankly kinda nosy. But say the friend never grows and moves on, but continues to have the same fights with the ex for the next twenty years (with different incidents, but basically the same fights), and after awhile it gets dull and repetitious and when the subject comes up you zone out and while you still may make sympathetic noises when she talks, you're sympathy is pretty much dead.

Here, the train just kept wrecking, over and over, and the characters just kept having the same conflicts and fights and issues, and never seemed to grow or develop. Despite all the drama nothing really seemed to happen- and in the end, the daughters appear to be essentially replaying the train wrecks of their parents' lives, with a few changes in the details.

Sometimes this can be a very powerful statement (Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises) but here it just got tiresome. I kept thinking this novel begged for some kind of growth, change, or development in the characters, but it just didn't happen.

So despite the good writing, for me in the end the book fell flat.
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Format: Hardcover
Have you ever wondered what life would be like growing up in a family of bigamists? The situation seems unthinkable, but it happens. I'm not referring to a strange polygamist cult with unusual beliefs and an alternate lifestyle. I'm speaking of ordinary folks just like you and me, except that they live in secret and hide from the ones they love.

These are people with children, jobs and commitments, upstanding citizens in nearly every sense of the word, the only difference being that they sustain a strange, dual family system --- a system that inherently requires deception and is forced upon the children. It is done in order to preserve the daily harmony and protect the feelings of others, yet as the psychological strain builds (and we know it must), it becomes all-too clear that the ones who are hurt are always the innocents.

Bigamy is the subject of this unusual story told in SILVER SPARROW, covering the life of a bigamist husband and dual father. James Witherspoon is a middle-aged African American man who has lived his lie for two decades. His story begins innocently with his daughter's recollections of her own illegitimacy. Dana describes her parents' affair in full detail, including what it's been like for her through the years. She has been kept a secret all her life. Dana's mother originally confided their story to her daughter years ago, telling of her affair directly and honestly. Dana understands their reasons and relates to the longings of a lonely heart. She believes it happened out of the blue, and though it was certainly a dishonest act, she recognizes that it wasn't premeditated at all. It seemed to happen very naturally, though resulted in a pairing that could not be recognized and would lead to a life of disasters and hurts.
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