It’s Atlanta in the 1980s, and Dana Lynn Yarboro and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon are two teens growing up not far from each other. They may run into each other because of school events or occasionally cross paths in public, but Chaurisse is completely unaware of Dana’s existence. “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” Dana intones at the beginning of the book; as part of his second family–his hidden family–Dana and her mother know all about Chaurisse, but Chaurisse and her mother know nothing about them. Told first from Dana’s point of view, then Chaurisse’s, Silver Sparrow tells a powerful story of what happens when the walls of secrecy begin to crumble.
Dana has always grown up with the knowledge that she is her father’s “other” daughter. While she and her mother, Gwendolyn, receive regular visits and some financial support from James and his brother, Raleigh, the women have always had to live with the glaring reminders that they come second to Chaurisse and her mother, Laverne. The tolls of secrecy have not only been financial and emotional in nature. Now that Dana and Chaurisse are of age to start thinking about which college prep programs and summer jobs they want to apply for, Dana is especially feeling Chaurisse’s invasive presence in her life; her father won’t allow her to work at any location or participate in any extracurricular activity that Chaurisse wants to be a part of. Dana and Gwendolyn are strictly forbidden from mentioning James in public or going anywhere near Chaurisse and Laverne, and as a result, they live very isolated lives.
Dana and her mother have always discreetly spied on Chaurisse and Laverne, doing things like parking the car nearby and observing them from afar. But Dana can’t stand it any longer and begins to take it even further, seeking out ways to directly approach Chaurisse. She soon is in over her head, developing a cautious friendship with her half-sister, who isn’t aware of Dana’s real link to her. Halfway through the book, the point of view switches and Chaurisse assumes the role of narrator. When everything spins out of Dana’s careful control, it is through Chaurisse’s clueless eyes that the reader gets to experience the dramatic fallout.
This was my first time reading a book by Tayari Jones, and I loved it (I also love the book’s pretty, shiny cover). The writing style is fairly straightforward: the reader is told the big secret in the very first sentence. It isn’t hard to guess the events the events that eventually transpire, but by staying within the limited worldviews of the teen narrators, Jones keeps the story fresh and engrossing. It is a story that will remain with you long after you’ve devoured the book.
Silver Sparrow was released on May 24, 2011 by Algonquin Books.