Thursday, March 7, 2013

Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones

Dana Lynn Yarboro announces in Silver Sparrow's first paragraph that her father, whom she calls James, is a bigamist who was already married to Laverne when he met Dana's mother. He also has another daughter, Chaurisse, the legitimate child who gets to call her father Daddy. While Dana and her mother Gwen know all about James's first family--they even "surveil" the house from time to time--Laverne and Chaurisse know nothing about them, and James insists it remain that way. If both girls are selected for a summer science program or hired for a summer job at Six Flags, Dana must give up the opportunity to protect Chaurisse.  Dana, who is smart, feisty, beautiful, and precocious, understandably resents being the "secret" daughter and rebels by hanging out with an older, abusive boy, smoking weed, and engaging in other inappropriate behaviors. While she resents the chubby and apparently bland Chaurisse, she also finds herself creating opportunities for their paths to cross.

Then Tayari Jones tricks us by switching narrators, giving Chaurisse--to this point a seemingly dull girl--the second half of the book. Chaurisse, it turns out, is struggling as much as Dana is. Her reputation has been ruined by gossiping church ladies, she has no friends, and she is acutely aware that she does not excel at much of anything. When she meets Dana while they are both shoplifting at a drugstore, she is excited to have made a friend, especially one who is so pretty and confident. When the two start hanging out together, it's only a matter of time until the s(*& hits the fan.

Silver Sparrow is not the most gracefully written or originally plotted book, but Tayari Jones does  make us feel the sadness visited upon Dana and Chaurisse by their parents' actions and, in Dana's case, by the secrets she is forced to keep. These sisters need each other--and they need more from their parents; it's heart-breaking when their needs are ignored.

Favorite passage:
Love can be incremental. Predicaments, too.

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