Let’s face it: so far, my book reviews have been white. Like, really white. With the exception of Purple Hibuscus, I’ve written about only white women authors. As someone who fully supports intersectionalism, this skewed ratio disturbs me.
Enter Tayari Jones.
I had to find her novels by browsing the racially segregated section of my library. (There are three shelves dedicated to “urban fiction” aka “black writers” in a remote dark corner of the Richland County Library that took three librarians over thirty minutes to find.) I had done a little homework beforehand and saw that Jones has lined up impressive credentials with her three novels, so I eagerly grabbed Silver Sparrow, her latest novel, from the middle shelf in “urban fiction” and hustled to my car only to find a parking ticket waiting in my windshield. (Thanks, Richland County Library, for not only costing me a ticket, but also for segregating African American fiction writers to the back corner of the building. Stay classy, South Carolina.)
Silver Sparrow is a novel set in 1980s Atlanta. It is about the two daughters of James Witherspoon: Dana and Chaurisse. These girls, though, aren’t sisters in the normal sense. James is a secret bigamist with two families: two wives, and one daughter with each woman. Chaurisse and Laverne are James’ first family. Dana Yarboro and her mother Gwendolyn are the “other” family.
Both families are separated from each other. James tries to keep the women in the dark, but Gwen and Dana know about the “legitimate family.” Following James’ legal wife and daughter becomes a game; Dana learns that Chaurisse is awkward and unpopular and that she makes sub-par grades in school compared to Dana’s own academic excellence. Yet James refuses to give Gwen and Dana a starring role in his life. His time goes to his first family, and Chaurisse gets the financial and academic resources that Dana covets.
Yet Chaurisse and Laverne don’t know about James’ other life. Chaurisse explains that her parents met when James coaxed Laverne into sleeping with him when she was severely underage. The union resulted in a pregnancy, binding James to Laverne in a marriage neither of them wanted.
As Chaurisse gets older, she and Dana slowly become intertwined. She doesn’t know that Dana is her sister, and Dana keeps their relation a secret. Yet their friendship becomes more difficult to conceal as the two become closer.
Jones divided the novel’s narration in half: Dana explains about her life growing up, then Chaurisse gets a chance to tell the story from her point of view. I love that Jones structured the novel this way. Dana’s confessions are raw and heartbreaking as she has somehow thrived into a vivacious young woman despite having lived in the shadows her whole life. When Chaurisse takes over, her lighthearted narration and stress-free life seem like a jaded slap in Dana’s face. I found myself angry at Chaurisse for being so naïve in contrast with Dana’s constant fight to discover where she fits into her father’s world. I had to take many moments to step back and remember that Chaurisse was also James’ victim, not Dana’s competition.
And James…James is a dick. Let’s not waste words on him.
I loved Silver Sparrow, and I’m even happier that I discovered Tayari Jones. She has two other novels that focus on black women living in Atlanta, and her point of view is a personal and refreshing take on the South. I’ll definitely be reading them in my future quest for literary misandry.
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