Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow has a great first line: “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” As soon as I read the first line, I wanted to know this girl’s story.
Narrated by two voices, Silver Sparrow tells the story of a secret, ‘outside’ daughter, Dana, and Chaurisse, the ‘real’ daughter who is unaware of her father’s other daughter and wife. These African-American girls share a father but it is unclear for the longest time whether it is better to know or not know. Dana has always known that she must stay in the shadows; she and her mother often trail Chaurisse and her mother, holding their sidelined lives up against the legitimized pair. Then Dana and Chaurisse meet and a friendship unexpectedly flourishes, but friendship between teenage girls is complicated enough without the freight of such a secret.
Set in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1980s, Silver Sparrow delves into a secret practice that is more commonplace than would be imagined:
Even in Baptist churches, ushers keep smelling salts on the ready for the new widow confronted at the wake by the other grieving widow and her stair-step kids. Undertakers and judges know that it happens all the time, and not just between religious fanatics, traveling salesman, handsome sociopaths, and desperate women.
Jones lets each girl speak in simple yet eloquent voices that are their own. Silver Sparrow is rich with themes for discussion. I’m not giving too much away when I quote Dana’s closing words:
People say, That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But they are wrong. What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. That’s all you get. Sometimes, you just have to hope that’s enough.