Book 6 of this month’s 12 in 12 Challenge is Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones This is a story about two families and how they connect and also how they have power to damage and even destroy one another. It is told by two different young women.
The book starts with Dana telling us that her father, James, is a bigamist. She and her mother know this and know all about his other family. Her mother has gone through a form of marriage with James but she lives continually in the shadow of the legitimate family. Dana cannot go to the same school as her half-sister, she can’t work in the same place and the family needs to keep this secret. The implication is that if she doesn’t then they will lose all contact with James and with his brother who also features in their family history.
The situation is messy and naturally Dana feels a certain curiosity about the other family and her half-sister Chaurisse. Dana is growing up as black in Atlanta in the late twentieth century and so race tension also feeds into the story as well as the class differences between Dana’s family and that of Chaurisse. Dana engineers a few meetings with Chaurisse and begins to resent her family’s status in James’ life.
Chaurisse then takes over as narrator and we see the situation from her side. She and her mother don’t know about James’ other family but the Black community is small and eventually Dana becomes part of Chaurisse’s world – you know that this is all going to go very wrong at some point and the author builds up to the revelation and to the consequences for both girls.
This is a beautifully written book. The author is careful not to condemn anyone completely and to provide motives for the adults to continue with the deception. James is a worm and a weak worm and it is difficult to see the attraction that the women have for him – some of it is because he brings his brother Raleigh with him and Raleigh is attractive, can pass as White, and has no strings. The two mothers appear locked into the situation – although they both earn a living they need the additional income and they want the feeling and the show of respectability that comes with having a man.
People are messy. They keep secrets and they deceive others. Acting like this never ends well for anyone. This story excellently illustrates these points and does it by helping the reader engage with two young women growing up and finding their way in the world.
A short, clever and engaging read. Beautifully crafted. I very much enjoyed it.