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Silver Sparrow Hardcover – May 24, 2011
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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)
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—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“This is a complicated, heartbreaking and very rich story about how secret sisters find each other but lose as much as they gain in the process.”
—Michele Norris of NPR’s All Things Considered
“It’s an amazing, amazing read.”
—Jennifer Weiner, NBC’s Today
“In Silver Sparrow—an amazing novel about a man with two families, one hidden and one public—Jones does something breathtaking and difficult: She renders a unique family dynamic with such precision and sensitivity that it becomes universal. It is amazing to watch, time and time again in this book, how Jones reveals the ways in which family both creates and destroys our identity.”
—Kevin Wilson in a Salon feature on writers’ favorite books of 2011
“A love story . . . Full of perverse wisdom and proud joy . . . Jones’s skill for wry understatement never wavers.”
—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Charting a vast emotional unknown is Tayari Jones’s compelling third novel, Silver Sparrow, in which a teenage girl’s coming of age in 1980s Atlanta is shadowed by her dawning understanding of a corrosive secret — her father’s second family.”
“Silver Sparrow will break your heart before you even know it. Tayari Jones has written a novel filled with characters I’ll never forget. This is a book I’ll read more than once.”
“The most immersive novel I read in 2011 . . . It’s one of those ‘just one more chapter’ kinds of books that require much last-minute changing of plans, because real life feels far less amusing, appalling, shocking, and loving than the world of its characters.”
“An exciting read all the way through.”
“It’s really powerful.”
—Diane Rehm, The Diane Rehm Show
“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
“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, each with his own story . . . Jones writes dialogue that is realistic and sparkling, with an intuitive sense of how much to reveal and when.”
—The Washington Post
“Award winner Tayari Jones weaves a tale of Black bigamy and two families in the fascinating fiction of Silver Sparrow.”
“Sharp as a blade, gleaming with ‘sense’ and humor. Her themes of legitimacy and secrets play out with symphonic, seemingly effortless resonance, and her indelible characters—one daughter a secret, discovered by the other—redefine love, loyalty, and betrayal in a New South only generations removed from slavery’s fracture. Jones is a master, and Silver Sparrow is a revelation, alive with meaning, heartbreak, and hope.”
—Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Lark and Termite
“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, that we forfeit to forge a family. There are no winners in this empathetic and provocative story, only survivors.”
“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.”
“Silver Sparrow grabs you with a first sentence that manages to be both matter of fact and mysterious and refuses to release you until she has finished a story that takes you deep into the lives of a family that is anything but ordinary. Graceful writing and careful attention to details have always been on display in Jones’s writing, but with this novel, she has found her own dazzlingly original voice, and in her hands, a sparrow suddenly becomes a soaring songbird.”
—Pearl Cleage, author of Till You Hear from Me
“Jones’ women . . . are all drawn well, from the sisters and their mothers to minor characters . . . Jones gives us permission to love all of [her novel’s] women, though they are flawed and often refuse to love each other. That’s a recipe for great book club discussions, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Silver Sparrow featured in many.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“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.”
“Set in the 1980s with deft, understated detail, Silver Sparrow is a thoughtful story about bigamy, but it is also a lovely, realistic portrait of two teenage African-American girls, and an exploration of the bonds between mothers and daughters.”
“Through Jones’ spellbinding storytelling, the reader is pulled into the drama until the very last, heartwrenching page. Watch for this amazing book to be among the best of the year.”
—Wichita Falls (TX) Times Record News
“Jones—author of the acclaimed Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling—remains faithful to her characters. Both girls are fully developed and complex. The book is aptly titled; if God’s eye is on the sparrow, one can imagine the struggle each girl feels to believe that someone watches after her.”
“An old-fashioned page-turner that explores class and gender concerns, friendship, and the profound effect that parents have on their children and that loyalty has on love.”
“A beautifully written literary feat.”
“If this book spoke aloud it would speak with a quiet, unsteady voice, one on the edge of tears . . . It’s like its narrators, sisters Dana and Chaurisse, each of whom sees herself as ordinary, not due much notice. Each envies those they call ‘Silver’—the shiny, beautiful, wanted people. Each views her world with a quiet, honest eye.”
“Silver Sparrow is rich, substantive, meaningful. It is also, at turns, funny and sharp, haunting and heartbreaking.”
“The strength of this story lies in the complexity and ease in which the relationships are drawn. Jones has a beautiful way with words . . . This is one of my favorite books of 2011.”
“Jones reveals plenty about teenagers, class distinctions in black Atlanta, how men keep secrets and how women disclose them, and why people stay in relationships that work against their best interests.”
—Washington City Paper
“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
“[Jones] is fast defining middle-class black Atlanta the way Cheever did Westchester.”
—The Village Voice
“Tayari Jones is a wise writer who presents Dana’s painful awareness of her outside status vividly in a straightforward graceful language that never gets in the way and manages to both entertain and provoke.”
—The Washington Independent Review of Books
“[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.”
“Jones has a gift for imagery, for plunking the reader down in the chaotic, swirling center of teenage territory.”
“Jones beautifully evokes Atlanta in the 1980s while creating gritty, imperfect characters whose pain lingers in the reader’s heart.”
“Silver Sparrow brings to mind John Irving in the ways it makes an epic story out of ordinary lives. The good, the bad, and the ugly all happen in this marvelously moving tale. Read this book! I can’t say it any more plainly than that.”
—Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine
“A graceful and shining work about finding the truth.”
—Library Journal, starred review
Top customer reviews
SILVER SPARROW is the story of two young women, Dana and Chaurisse, who are the daughters of a bigamist father. Only Dana is aware that her father has another family and Dana's existence must be kept a secret from her father's other family. The first half of the book is told from Dana's perspective and the second half is told from Chaurisse's perspective as she slowly begins to realize that something isn't quite right with her family.
I thought that this book was a quick, easy read that would probably be great for a beach read. The writing is solid even if the style is somewhat simplistic (similar to a YA novel). I enjoyed most of the characters and I thought that the author did a good job of portraying all the characters involved in this very complicated situation in complex and compelling ways - she didn't make any of them out to be 100% villains. I also thought that the story and the setting had a realism about them that grounded the somewhat sensational subject matter. You could see this story really happening in this town. I could picture the setting in my mind very clearly.
My problem with this book was that I thought this same story with these same characters could have been told in a much more compelling fashion. To begin with, the narrator characters (the two girls) insist on interrupting the telling of the story at hand in order to tell stories about their parents' lives which occurred before the beginning of the novel. I don't just mean an anecdote here or there - entire chapters are devoted to the parents' backstory. This irritated me - to me, this book was fundamentally about the two girls, not about their parents. The author certainly could have included some of the information in the flashback chapters through normal exposition, but there was just way too much attention devoted to the parents' backstories - it didn't add anything to novel as a whole and I always found myself wanting to skip over these chapters.
I also didn't like the fact that the first half of the novel is told from Dana's point-of-view and the second half through Chaurisse's point-of-view. I found Dana to be the more compelling of the two characters and I would have enjoyed it if the second, climactic half of the novel had been told through her point-of-view. I understand the need to have both of the girls' perspective in the novel. I just think that the novel would have worked much, much better if the entire thing had been told in alternating viewpoints (chapter to chapter) rather than the first half being about one girl and the second half being about the other girl. I think that the second half of the novel would have benefited greatly from seeing Dana's perspective.
Finally, I thought that the ending was sort of abrupt. The big reveal doesn't come until about the 90% mark and it is a rather cliché scene. I was looking forward to seeing how the big reveal actually effected both the girls and their families, but we get to see very little of this. I think it would have been better to have the big reveal happen much sooner (like at about 50-60% through the novel) and then have the book really deal with the aftermath of Chaurisse and her mother finding out about her father's other family. Even the epilogue-ish scene at the end is very abrupt and it doesn't give us much of a sense of how the girls' lives have changed in the intervening years between the end of the last chapter and the epilogue.
There were things that I liked about this novel, but I also feel like there is just so much wasted potential here. This book could have been really great with a few tweaks here and there, but as it stands, it's just average which is why I'm giving it three stars.
The first half of the book is narrated by secret daughter,Dana, while the second half of the story is told by Chaurisse, the acknowledged daughter. Thus, the reader sees both halves of this complicated family arrangement, and its impact on two girls as they grow up.
An exceptionally good read that kept me turning the pages.
The rationalizations for entering and staying in a bigamous relationship; the aiding and abetting by a trusted friend; the jealousy of the daughter who knows about the other one and the tension that knowledge builds; all add to Jones' narrative skill in telling a believable, emotion-driven story about people caught up in agreeing to live a damaging lie.
Does the amoral needs of a man who wants to keep his two families intact but detached from each other outweigh the responsibility of a loving woman who knows he is married but enters into a relationship with him and has a child? Together they build a life that becomes the "outside" family. His primary life is with the wife and daughter he makes his home with. This is the accepted contract.
Inevitably, the outside daughter pursues a clash course that rocks both homes he shares. The story is a page-turner at that point, earning it my 4-star rating for a very good read.