Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones – Book Review

Silver Sparrow is my first experience with Tayari Jones’ writing, though this is her third novel.  I am happy to have found an author whose body of work I would love to explore. Like many others I was fascinated by the premise, a bigamist and his two families living practically side by side in 1980′s Atlanta.

The novel begins with the decidedly matter of fact admission that James Witherspoon is a bigamist. Readers can only imagine what might follow on the heels of such a statement, and through the narratives of Witherspoon’s daughters’s Dana (by his second wife, Gwen) and Chaurisse (by his legal wife, Laverne), Jones conveys the confusion, curiosity, troubled emotions and heartbreak involved for these girls and their families as they strive to find love in an imperfect situation.

Silver Sparrow is a suspenseful read. Though the “secret” is out of the bag with the first sentence, it does nothing to diminish the intense curiosity readers will have about the lives of these two girls – if and how they might meet. Whether I am able or not, there are few books that I finish in one sitting, and this book is one that I absolutely finished the day I picked it up. There was just no stopping! Jones writes simply and beautifully, and I often had to stop and marvel at how effectively she managed to portray such depth and understanding in her writing. Her style is simply wonderful.

Jones brings an amazing amount of clarity and thoughtful observation to her work and to her characters, who are always rich and complex. Each of the minor characters offered something in the way of movement and understanding to the story while hinting at richer lives and inner struggles driving them. And the girls! How I felt for Dana and her mother who had always known that they were the other family and the insecurity it caused and the privations they suffered. This did nothing to alter my sympathy for Chaurisse and her mother who had never known there was a family besides their own. No one escapes unscathed.

Silver Sparrow is a complex, wonderful family drama and coming of age story, investing the reader in the story from the start and engaging them all the way through the slow implosion of two families whose foundations are based in painful deception. Highly recommended.

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Review Copy.

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  1. I had a great time talking about this book with others who read it also. It’s such a natural for book clubs (the big question being how one felt about Dana at the end!)

  2. OK crap I just lost my comment. Anyway, it is weird that anybody would be attracted to a story about a bigamist, because it is so offensive. But I would imagine most people would be intrigued to read this. I may have to pitch this to my book club…

    1. I think it would be a good read, and I think more people have experience with this than will readily admit. Witherspoon took the extra step of marrying his girlfriend, but probably a lot of people are in the same situation without the extra step of marriage.

  3. I have heard a lot about this book and the fact that there is such a difference in the way the two families live. It sounds like this would be an excellent read, and one that I would really like to try. I am glad that you ended up loving it. Isn’t it cool when you can just grab a book and blow through it in one sitting? I am always amazed when that happens! Great review by the way!

    1. I do love when that happens! I didn’t mean to read the entire thing, but it just couldn’t be helped. I HAD to see what was next for these characters.

  4. Oh, man, I really want to read this! I’m really enjoying looking through everyone’s reviews of it. I feel like I already know it. :O)

  5. Excellent review! Sounds like a great new angle on a theme frequently used in TV series episodes. I’m glad Tayari Jones has explored the idea to the point of thoroughly involving the reader in these tangled lives. Silver Sparrow is on my list!

  6. I tried to check out a Tayari Jones book — any one! I was willing to be flexible! — at the library today when I fetched White Is for Witching, but dammit there weren’t any in. She sounds so wonderful, I totally want to jump on this bandwagon.

    1. I was in the library the other day with my aunt and I looked, just out of curiosity, to see whether they had any of her books on the shelf, and they didn’t either! There is something very wring about that.

  7. Jones is such a fantastic author, she really knows how to weave together a perfect story. Glad to see another great review of this book!

  8. I love books that tell you the big secret or end early and still manage to be suspenseful. I’ve been hearing good things – I’ll have to check this one out.

  9. I absolutely cannot wait to read this!! I think I might read it next. I haven’t read The Untelling, but I definitely recommend Leaving Atlanta. I have not forgotten that story or those children at all since reading it.

  10. I loved this book so much. I really need to write my review soon. I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the book as much from Chaurisse’s point of view as Dana’s, but I was so wrong. I always root for the underdog and assumed that would be Dana. In this situation, both daughters are underdogs. Great review!

  11. I read this book for my famiy book club. Many of us are avid readers and one of the younger members of the family suggested this book for our club.
    I didn’t like this book, certainly I did not hate the book but I did not feel that the book had any moral value.
    The characters were not well developed. I am often uncomfortable when African American men are in the story and none of them are strong. This book represented all weak African American men, and frankly I did not like that. I thought the grandmother, Bunny, was the only strong African American women. Both Lavern and Gwen were weak African American women, Gwen being the weakest. Why are we as African American women so weak as to want to hurt and injure one another. Where is the sisterhood in that! I thought Dana and Cherusse were both
    victims of their father and their mothers’ choices. The only theme in this book was “dysfunction.”