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Silver Sparrow

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2011)
With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon is a bigamist,” Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s families– the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich and flawed characters, she also reveals the joy, and the destruction, they brought to each other’s lives.

At the heart of it all are the two girls whose lives are at stake, and like the best writers, Jones portrays the fragility of her characers with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published May 24, 2011

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About the author

Tayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage (Algonquin Books, February 2018). Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was named a #1 Indie Next Pick by booksellers in 2011, and the NEA added it to its Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University.

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5 stars
9,202 (24%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,185 reviews
Profile Image for Wilhelmina Jenkins.
242 reviews203 followers
May 17, 2011
I had not intended to read this book so quickly or to stay up until 3 AM reading it, but I was so caught up in this beautifully written, touching story that I couldn't stop. It's the kind of book that makes you want to discuss it with others right away. I have admired Tayari Jones' writing since her first novel Leaving Atlanta: A Novel, and in my opinion, her writing has only improved over time. She is able to convey so much by the voices she creates for two girls with a common father - given any sentence in the book, the reader will immediately know which girl is speaking, with no exaggerated accents or jarring class-related characteristics. Each girl tells her own story, but at the same time, their worlds inevitably overlap and collide. As Chaurisse tells it, " ...having a shared father gave us something in common that looped around our ankles and pulled tight around our wrists. This was between all of us. The six of us were hog-tied, fastened in place by different knots." James, the bigamist; his daughters, Dana and Chaurisse; his wives Gwendolyn and Laverne; his enigmatic best friend, "Uncle" Raleigh - all caught in a web of lies that must, at some point, unravel. This is a story that rings with truth. It is an exceptional book.
Profile Image for Yun.
505 reviews18k followers
June 6, 2020
In Silver Sparrow, we follow two sisters with different mothers who share the same father. The girls are kept away from each other. They grow up in seemingly similar circumstances, but their father's disparate treatment of them results in different lives for the two of them. When their paths finally intersect, it leads to the unraveling of their father's carefully crafted families.

The writing in here is beautiful: evocative, nuanced, and weighty. I found myself immersed in it, unable to turn away. There is so much said and unsaid, so many emotions on the surface, but also underneath. The relationships in here are complex and fraught with peril, and each person is doing the best they can given the circumstances, but it often isn't enough.

What drew me to this book initially is that it says it's about polygamy, and I'm always fascinated by that. Why would anyone willingly participate? What are the logistics? But this book isn't really about that. When I think of polygamy, everyone participating has to know they are doing so; otherwise, it's just plain cheating, right? So this book isn't about polygamy so much as it's about cheating. But even then, it doesn't adequately address why the participants wanted to take part in all that.

And while the story focuses on the two daughters, I'm not sure I really grasped the point of it. The narrative feels cohesive, but ultimately leading nowhere. And when it finally gets to the crux of the matter, it ends abruptly without really resolving anything. And maybe that is the point of it, that there is no resolution to such a complex set of issues, but that's not very satisfying to me as a reader.

Overall, I enjoyed the writing in this story, and its ability to provide a viewpoint into a tricky and difficult family setup, and the effects of that on the daughters. But the narrative itself felt a bit wandering to me, without a clear goal in mind. And when it did reach a crucial point, it just sort of ended. I didn't really gain any insight from it. I kept waiting for more throughout the book, and then there was no more.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
June 5, 2017
This is my first book I've read by Tayari Jones. I enjoyed it very much. The majority of story takes place during the 1980s in Atlanta. "Atlanta ain't nothing but a country town".

"Silver Sparrows" is about two families. James Witherspoon is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first meets Gwendolyn ( Gwen).

The first half of the book is told by Dana Lynn Yarboro .(Gwen's daughter). Dana tells us how her mother and James first met. ( gift wrapping counter). Dana's mother knew James was married. His other daughter, Chaurisse, was never a secret.

James 'wife' is named Laverne. Gwen accepts that James found Laverne first...and respects his wife's rights. After all, she has legal documents. ( I was laughing - thinking.... boy, that's all it takes - legal documents, huh.. - to be ok for your husband to have another wife and daughter? "ok, lol"!!! ).
As for herself, Gwen, words like concubine, whore, mistress, and consort are 'unfair' nasty words that come up in conversation- mostly if Gwen is tipsy, angry, or sad.

So, Gwen and Dana know about James other family. However, Laverne and Chaurisse know nothing about them.

The second half of the book is told by Chaurisse. We begin to understand why Gwen accepted her invisible secret hidden life. However -- soon both daughter's world collide. The truth is this story breaks our hearts ...but it's also 'enjoyable-to-read'.

Both daughters voices as narrator are equally important to see the 'big picture' of what's going on.
The dialogue is authentic- the story becomes more and more complex. It's heartrending, powerful, funny, and this entire book has a rich quality easily felt between the author and her historical knowledge of her generation --- growing up in Atlanta. I liked it!

I'm also looking forward -- ( fingers crossed I receive a Netgalley copy) -- in reading Tayari Jones new book called "An American Marriage". I think it sounds great.
Profile Image for Franc.
105 reviews5 followers
September 8, 2015
There was a good premise here - 2 daughters, 2 mothers, 1 father. Only 1 mother/daughter pairing knew of the other. And then ultimately, they would all come together somewhow. It was the coming together that didn't wow! me - I wanted more from that very important turn-their-life-upside-down moment. There were a lot of questions I had when I got to the last page.
Why didn't Raleigh have his own lady-friend, why did he hang his whole life on his not-brother and his family? Why did Dana befriend Chaurrise, did she genuinely want to be her friend or was her plan to eventually expose their father? Was Dana just trying to replace Ronalda? Dana's mother knew James was married, beyondhaving the affair and a baby, why did she want to be a second, illegal wife? What did she hope to gain? WHat did James think would come of it? What did James and Dana's mother say to each other after it all happened? How did Dana and Chaurrise avoid each other after it all happened for so long; granted, Atlanta's not a small town, but it seemed they were in a small enclave with many overlapping acquaintances? James left Dana and her mother, it seemed, pretty easily - did he love them, was it really that easy and simple a decision for him?

Good premise, good story. But I wanted more from it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,286 reviews638 followers
January 3, 2021
Before penning the amazing “An American Marriage”, author Tayari Jones wrote “Silver Sparrow” which is about two girls who are sisters, only one sister knows of the other. Confusing? It was for me, as Ms. Jones opened my eyes to families who live with secrets and others who are obliviously unaware. She opens her story with “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist”. Yikes! One reads of those stories, generally involving some strange religion, and these people live in desolate areas, off the grid so to speak. But in Ms. Jones novel, these girls live in Atlanta, contemporary Atlanta!

The story begins with Dana Lynn Yarboro narrating her life and perspective. Dana has always known that her father has another family, with a wife and a daughter her age. Dana knows that the other woman and daughter know nothing about Dana and her mother, Gwen. Dana tells of her life growing up. Her mother worked hard, and always encouraged Dana to excel. Gwen noticed what the other daughter, Chaurisse had, and made a point of Dana needing to have equal treatment. So, Dana grew up knowing of all the things and experiences Chaurisse received, while Dana was lucky to see her father once a week. Although Dana knew of Chaurisse, she was instructed that under no circumstances, was she to talk to or be around Chaurisse. In fact, James told her that she, Dana, was “a secret”.

Dana’s narration is heartbreaking. Tayari Jones does a fantastic job of character development. My heart broke for Dana. What pressure to put on a little girl. Dana’s mom Gwen is a bit murky. She is a character who is difficult to understand in that she knew he was married when she began the affair; yet she is a devoted momma. She works hard and does all she can do to help Dana make the best of her life and her future.

Dana sees the world in one way, and we, as the reader, are a part of her life and perspective. As a mother, I felt sorrow for Dana. And I agreed with Dana that Chaurisse lived this privileged life. Ms. Jones is so good; I was jealous of Chaurisse myself!

And then Jones gives Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon her narration. Chaurisse begins her narration telling the reader that her story begins with her mother, Laverne, marring James Witherspoon at age fourteen years old. James and Laverne were babies when they got married, thrown into the adult world. Laverne and James struggled through adolescence with an unexpected and unintended pregnancy. Laverne is a sympathetic character, a woman who had to grow up too fast. She too is a devoted mother. James, in his duplicity, is not a likable character, although Jones doesn’t write him as truly evil, more hapless, and a bit shifty. Jones writes him as a complicated character who loves both of his daughters.

Chaurisse is meek and innocent. Her part of the story is amazing in its illumination. What one girl saw was totally different from what the other experienced. Jones writes different points-of-view in such a way that you want to re-read what the other sister experienced. What I loved most of this novel is when I read Chaurisse’s part, and what I thought as fact from Dana’s part becomes gray. I do love stories that show the messiness of life, the differences of perspective, the well-intentioned acts turning wrong. And this story provides that in spades.

I LOVED “An American Marriage” and I think I love this one even more! Author Tayari Jones is one of my favorite authors.

Profile Image for Regina.
625 reviews382 followers
April 11, 2012
Silver Sparrow was chosen as one of the top 10 books of 2011 by Library Journal.

Here is an NPR article about this wonderful gem.

Here is a Washington Post about Silver Sparrow.

What does the “other woman” represent in the nightmares of women everywhere? The mere thought of an “other woman” existing is terrifying, horrifying, humiliating and for many, beyond imagination. What if the “other woman” had a child? What if she lived in the same town and neighborhood? What if the “other woman” was not a passing fancy, but existed in the husband’s life for decades – visiting her for dinner, giving her money to support herself. What if the husband’s friends and family knew about her? Is the “other woman” to blame? Is the child? How does the child of an “other woman” grow up emotionally healthy when she knows she is living in a shadow? When she knows that she is a secret? What kind of man, husband, father would live this sort of double life? And which family would he choose if his secret was exposed. Silver Sparrow explores the very complicated walls and paths drawn around the hidden life that a bigamist lives and that of his secret second wife and their child.

The main portion of the story takes place during the 1980s in Atlanta, and is told from two points of view. The book begins with Dana, the bigamist’s secret daughter. The unfolding of the story with Dana's point of view, immediately put Dana as the sympathetic character. And as Dana told the story, I almost was able to believe that the father may have been doing somewhat right by her. Ms. Jones is such a skillful writer, in that she allowed me to buy completely into their life. The second half of the book focuses on Chaurisse, who is also a daughter of the bigamist’s, but by his first marriage – and thus his public relationship. From the beginning of Chaurisse's point of view, it becomes clear that what Chaurisse has is a true father and a much truer family experience.; poor Dana has the cast-offs. The contrast between each girl’s life becomes starker as the story unfolds. We learn that, incredibly, both Dana and her mother are invested in protecting the bigamist’s secret; they are invested in protecting their life in the shadows. I say incredibly, because at some point shouldn’t they become frustrated with being pushed to the side? At some point will they have a need to bring it to light? And how does the “first wife” not guess about the duplicity? Does she not wonder why her husband is gone every single Wednesday? Does she not notice that money is missing? Both wives have their own careers and truly are able to support themselves and their daughters. They are not in a situation where they are dependent on their man – the bigamist – to support them financially. So where does the emotional dependence come from? Why stay? The story does not explore these points directly asked, but they are explored implicitly.

Dana and Chaurisse are the same age, however both girls do not possess the same level of knowledge about each other or about their father. Dana and her mother know all about Chaurisse and her mother; they live in their shadow. Every choice and step that Dana and her mother take is tempered by whether Chaurisse and her mother will be there or choose to do something similar. Dana is truly a “second”. Chaurisse and her mother have no idea that Dana exists. But Chaurisse “gets” her father on a daily basis, she lives with him and has the intimacy of a father-daughter relationship. Dana does not have any of this. Her father, while a weekly visitor, is a mystery and almost an intangible.

Through the telling of the story by Dana and Chaurisse, readers are also taken back in history and treated to a story telling of the adults’ lives as children. The characters in Silver Sparrow are richly developed, not only Dana and Chaurisse, but also the ancillary characters that assist in creating (and maintaining!) this situation – the mothers, the father, and the father’s best friend. Through the interplay of the various characters, readers are pulled into this beautifully told story. And let me tell you, it is an entertaining immersion, you will not regret it, but it is painful as well. There are some truly heartbreaking scenes where the characters hurt each other – hurt in a deep emotional way. Hurt in a way that as a reader, I did not know how they could survive such pain.

This is a wonderful story, a beautiful book and I highly recommend it!

Profile Image for Andre.
500 reviews132 followers
July 13, 2011
Good read, not great. Can't really understand all the fuss. Keep hearing that "it's well written." Hell aren't books supposed to be? We set the bar pretty low when we say that. I pay good money for books, and for me well written is a minimum expectation. I think pace, subject matter, character, realism and prose are important when judging a book as worthy of ones' time. And in that vein, Silver Sparrow hits the mark. It is book you will enjoy talking about with others, because of the real life plot line. I liked the way drama was kept to a minimum, of course until the climax, which seemed a bit rushed. Almost like she didn't know how to end the book. I would have liked the "secret" to have been revealed earlier in the novel and see how the protagonists worked it out. This makes sense because the story is told from their perspective. The holding of it to build a dramatic climax wasn't entirely necessary. This is a minor disappointment, and does not stop me from enthusiastically recommending this book.
Profile Image for Deb.
Author 2 books20 followers
January 16, 2014
Complicated. Complicated. Complicated!
This is a book that so many "bookie" friends have recommended to me. I just recently found it in my local used bookstore with a round of other much recommended books and so I decided to dive right in. Since so many have already read it, I'm not too sure what I could say that hasn't already been said but of course, give my opinion.

Let's start with the composition. This is an extremely tempting and curious book. From the first page as our narrator starts to tell her story the reader is immediately sucked in. It's intriguing to find out what is happening? What is this story really all about. The story is written from the point of view of the two daughters in this book. The first half is told by Dana and the second half by Chaurisse. I found the author did a great job at creating distinction between the two voices. Even within either of those two narrations we hear voices from other characters within the book as the story is being told and the author again is quite skilled in delivering the various personalities. The author does a great job of connecting the reader with the characters with the alternation of the narrators. You really get the point of view from each side.

I do recommend this book. I do want so very dearly to give it a perfect score but for reasons I can only discuss in the "spoiler" portion below.. it's a GR 4 star but my personal score system has halves so technically this is a 4 1/2.. so.. there we are. I recommend to the Chick lit readers because it's got drama, to the African American fiction readers, Lit readers and people who like a good relationship drama.

This is a story of lies, deceit, secrets and need. More than that, there's no other way I can think of to go into this but to talk about the book.. so I'll toss the old spoiler alert on right now for those who need it. Below is what the book is about and my opinion.


When I started this book. I didn't know what I was getting into. I started to listen to Dana's story. The beginning of Gwen and James love story. It seemed normal enough until we learned that James was already married. It still seemed a little romantic until it hit you the weight of what they were doing. A second marriage? A second simultaneously marriage? When Dana began to tell her story, she mentioned these other women in her community. Possibly of some cult, wearing white and in church, several of them and the one husband. I at first thought maybe this was what this book was about. But no. It was very reminiscent of stories those of us growing up in African American communities in America may have heard of. There is always some "gossip" in the community or some family lore. And this was very reminiscent of "it". I could almost hear the sisters gossiping about it in the hair salon.
"Ummm, girl did you hear about that Witherspoon?".
"You mean the one owns that limo service."
"Um, girl that's the one." Lowers voice, looks both ways in preparation for the good gossip.
Whispers, "Girl, he ain't no good!"
"I heard he got two wives!"
"Shut up!"
"Yes, Chile. And get this.... two little girls months apart."
"Now, I can't believe that because you know.. the look of him.. he don't look like doodely squat with them big ole' Coke bottle glasses and he's short!"
Laughter erupts. One lady slaps her leg. The other throws her head back.
"You know you ain't right!"
"It's the truth! And you know that brother of his..."
"Fake brother. Cause you can look at them and see Raleigh ain't no blood brother of his."
"True. True. But Raleigh ain't too bad lookin either. I must say that."
"Yes, you MUST say that."
Scene ends. Curtain comes down on the Beauty shop set.

I really connected with this book and the characters. Maybe I've come across people who were similar. Maybe I know some of those qualities. Maybe I recognize them. Maybe some of the situations, relationships, quotes are reminiscent of things that I've experienced, witnessed, heard about. There was a real connection.
I felt so bad for Dana & Chaurisse/Laverne because James and Gwen.. and even Raleigh had put those two innocent girls into this dysfunctional situation. Gwen chose to play house with a man she knew was already married. No matter what she thought it was.. that was "play house". She seems to have gone into this "arrangement" out of a need for a husband and she knew it was not right and she even had the opportunity to redeem herself when Raleigh proposed but she allowed a child to make the decision for her. Which I'll never comprehend. Gwen was very childlike to me. Sneaking around like a stalker watching Chaurisse and Laverne. And it ticked me off that she taught this to Dana. Poor Dana's very existence was pitted against Chaurisse and created this competition. This need to be validated. James was just as much at fault as Gwen. I understand he married Laverne when they were very young. But he took "obligation" too far. When he fell for Gwen, he could have just had an affair, as some do. Not saying it's right but he became a bigamist. Those are lies unforgivable. To live to lives and lies to that degree is just selfishness personified. Maybe it was out of obligation. Maybe he felt pushed by Gwen. Maybe it validated him because he sounded kind of ugly. Made him feel good as a man to have two women. He thought he was special. During Dana's section of the book, you thought that James did care for them. By the time you got to Chaurisse's section and the end of the book.. it seemed as if this had turned into some obligation and he didn't even care much about Dana and Gwen. All the talk of love seemed like words. That all his time with Gwen and Dana over the years had been obligation or routine or to pacify them, actually. "If I do this.. give them a little time, a little money.. they won't tell my secret that I made a long time ago and now can't get out of.. so I have to keep it going." Raleigh... poor Raleigh. I feel so sorry for him. I've seen so many "Raleigh's" (men and women), aging, walking around unloved living vicariously through brother's/sister's sharing nieces or nephews in the place of husbands/wives or children. It's very sad. He was hurt so bad by his mother. He only wanted really to share James life. Living in a sense vicariously through him. Notice when he spoke it was always, we or your daddy and I or James and I, type of thing. The one time he wanted.. he wanted Gwen but she wouldn't have him. It was like he lost out to James again. It would be interesting maybe to hear a story about Raleigh and how James got everything but he got ...to share it? That's why I'd say all together this is a story about need. What each character needed. Yearned for. And what they got.
Great character study. Those are just my thoughts.
The only reason why I didn't give it a perfect star was because it got just the slightest, slightest bit tedious at the end.
Profile Image for Nikki.
156 reviews6 followers
August 11, 2016
The book started off pretty well. The storyline was intriguing and seemed a bit familiar. However, I found it very difficult to like any of the characters in the story. I think that the author should have chosen to share the stories of Dana and Chaurisse at the same time instead of first giving Dana's view then Chaurisse's. By the time Chaurisse time had come, I was already a bit bored. I do think Jones has great potential in penning a good novel. She just missed the mark on this one.
Profile Image for ReadAlongWithSue .
2,634 reviews170 followers
October 19, 2020

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Such an intense read.

How can someone commit bigamy and get away with it?
Or can they!

Deceit and lies, secrets and consequences.

What a stunning tale. Not just the women that get hurt but the girls involved too. Both around about the same age born from the belly of each of his “wives”.

When the latter part came together it was evident how such deceit went deeper than deep.

This author can surely draw you in among this family sagas complexity’s.

One family a secret.
The other public.

The daughters meet, but only one knows the secret.

How will this complicated bubble burst? And to what conclusions?

Thoroughly enjoyed this.

If you love family drama
Secrets and lies

You’ll love this.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,376 reviews2,175 followers
November 21, 2022
Before there was An American Marriage there was Silver Sparrow . I am shaking myself for taking so long to read Silver Sparrow because it is truly so good.

The book opens a daughter saying, “My father, James Witherspoon is a bigamist,”. With an opening like this, you KNOW the book is about to be lit. Set in Atlanta during the 1980s we meet James Witherspoon, a Black man with two families- one he claims publicly and the other is a secret. Yes, we all know a James Witherspoon. The novel separated into two points of views, one from each daughter. We hear from the daughter who is secret, how they became and secret, how finding out about her sister impacts how she sees her father, her relationship with her mother and how she navigates the world.

The second part of the book is told from the perspective of the daughter who James claims publicly. She is not aware of his second family, but with such a small neighbourhood, they are bound to meet. What will happen when they do? Who will James claim?

Listen, Tayari Jones is an expect storyteller- but we all know this from An American Marriage. I love how she writes about difficult topics but make them so nuanced and layered. She does an excellent job of telling us how James became a bigamist and how his actions will affect so many lives. Things like this are never just black and white and I think that is the lesson Jones wants us to come away with.

Read this if you love books about family dynamics!
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,380 reviews518 followers
February 17, 2019
The premise of The Silver Sparrow is so enticing! Narrated by two girls, one year apart in age, who both live in Atlanta and whose father is a bigamist. One knows, the other doesn't. Unfortunately, the book slumps along and never gets off the ground. I'm rating it 3 stars because it is readable, has great promise and was clearly good practice for An American Marriage.
Profile Image for Tiffany PSquared.
494 reviews88 followers
May 11, 2018
I hated that I waited so long to read this book.

Tayari Jones walked my neighborhood, along my streets, past stores I shopped in and restaurants I ate at in Atlanta. Her characters went to schools my friends went to and many of their experiences were mine too. Those nostalgic 80's when life seemed to be bathed in neon and everyone wore jellies, but not even bright colors could cover up some of the scandals that rocked the local hair salons with gossip in real life and also in this almost-true-to-life story written by Tayari Jones.

Dana and Chaurisse don't appear to have very much in common, but they do share something very significant - they have the same father, even though only one of them knows it. Their mutual dad, James, is a bigamist who lives his double life with the help of his best friend Raleigh. Written from the perspectives of both daughters, Silver Sparrow is the story of two separate families learning to live with a secret that only some of them are aware of. It is a suspenseful and heartbreaking journey into what it means to be a family and how the people in your life impact your self-worth.

I have to admit that it didn't end the way I expected. I was more than a little disheartened at that. But I realized that was part of the beauty of this book, it was personal to me. And after all, isn't that the mark of a great author?
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,410 followers
November 3, 2012
An intriguing story about an African-American man, James, who is a bigamist. James is married to two women at the same time,and has a daughter by each of them. The weird thing is James is actually a good man and it's easy to sympathize with his predicament.

I liked the structure of the book; the first half was narrated by Dana, daughter of the second wife, and the second half was narrated by Bunny, daughter of the first wife. As Chaurisse didn't knows that her father was already married, it was pretty interesting to see what she made of things she saw and heard that we knew the cause of. One alternately feels sorry for both Chaurisse and Dana.

All the characters in the story are quite fascinating; they are all flawed human beings but that's what makes them human in my opinion.I breezed through the story, it was a very entertaining read.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,563 reviews1,934 followers
June 16, 2018
After I thoroughly enjoyed Jones' new novel, AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE, going back to her first novel was an obvious choice. Everything she did so skillfully with her second novel--switching points of view, making you empathize with characters you despised a few pages earlier, creating complex moral issues of family and loyalty--she does with SILVER SPARROW as well.

Our characters are two teenage girls, half-sisters, the daughters of a man who married his mistress despite already being married. Only the illegitimate daughter knows of the other's existence. This is one of those stories about the way women tend to prefer to hold their grudges against other women rather than the men who are the real cause of their trouble, and one of those stories about just how much trouble those men can cause.

Jones switches perspectives about halfway through the novel and it took me completely by surprise. I was so immersed in Dana's story, so absolutely loyal to her, that I started off feeling almost hostile to Chaurisse's perspective. But she quickly turned me around. The way Jones dives into these girls' lives, and also into the lives of their mothers, is just so good. I cared about them all so much, even as I watched Dana do things that I knew she shouldn't do, I'd spent so much time on her side that I understood why she was doing them. It's an excellent feat of characterization and storytelling.

Like AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE this is an excellent book club pick, with several characters and arcs to dive into.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,458 reviews279 followers
August 29, 2011
This book is devastating. I never should have started it because there is only one way for a story like this to go.

And, it did.
Now I just want it out of me. Damn.

BTW: Tayari Jones, you can WRITE. Also, that epilogue is EPIC. So real and so heartbreaking. I am a hot mess. thankyouverymuch.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
August 11, 2011
Well written book with beautiful language about a black family in the siuth whose husband and father is a bigamist. He has two families and two daughters roughly the same age. Though the first family knows about the first, his first family doesn't have the same knowledge. When as a five year old his second daughter is told by her father that she is the secret family it colors her whole life. when the two daughters become friends many things happen.
Profile Image for Bkwmlee.
367 reviews229 followers
November 15, 2020
4.5 stars

“My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” This opening line to Tayari Jones’s 2011 novel Silver Sparrow , is simply stated, but after finishing the story, we realize just how much of a punch this one sentence packs. In this wonderfully nuanced story of two sisters, one of whom doesn’t even know the other exists, we are given insight into a family and the dysfunction that results from one fateful decision. In James Witherspoon’s eyes, he believes he is “doing the right thing” by marrying Gwendolyn Yarboro after she has his child, a daughter named Dana Lynn. Never mind the fact that, at the time, he had already been married to his wife Laverne for a decade and also has a daughter with her, named Chaurisse. On paper, Gwen is James’s “wife” and Dana is his legitimate child, but reality, especially the law, dictates otherwise. Regardless of what James says or does, Gwen and Dana will always be a “secret” that his “real” family must never know about — in fact, James makes it very clear to Gwen and Dana that they are to “stay the hell away” from Laverne and Chaurisse. How is that possible though when his “real” and “secret” family live in relatively close proximity to each other and, as we find out eventually, the daughters know the same group of friends. So of course, it should come as no surprise that Dana and Chaurisse eventually become friends, though Chaurisse has no clue that Dana is actually her sister. As is usually the case, secrets of this nature are hard to keep under wraps forever and when the inevitable is revealed, the results are devastating.

The story is narrated from the points of view of the 2 daughters, which I feel was the perfect mechanism for telling this story. As I came to know both Dana and Chaurisse, and began to understand the impact of their parents’ actions on them — physically, mentally, emotionally — I couldn’t help feeling deeply for them. For two teenagers to have to deal with not just a situation that neither of them chose, but also the fallout from it that changes their lives forever, it really made me detest the adults in their lives for their actions (and inactions). Of course, the character I hated the most in this story was the father, James Witherspoon — not just because of his cheating on his wife (which, as it turns out, was probably the least of his aggressions), but because the way he handled the entire situation, he repeatedly caused pain to both his families, which I found to be deplorable. The worst part was James’s nonchalant attitude toward the whole thing — it made me mad how he would constantly assert that he was “doing the best he could” and the fact that he agreed to “own up to his mistake” by providing for Gwen and Dana (as opposed to abandoning them, I suppose) should absolve him of all wrongdoing. But of course, it’s not that simple, as it becomes obvious from the way James treats Gwen and Dana throughout the entire story that he is exasperated with them, at times even making himself out to be the victim rather than the person who created this whole mess to begin with. Some may argue that James is a “flawed” man who made some mistakes, but since he did try to rectify them, he should at least be given some credit for that – while that may be true to some extent and perhaps in other circumstances, I might be more sympathetic, but the James Witherspoon presented as he was in this story made me feel nothing but disdain for him.

This was my first experience with Tayari Jones’s works (I know, I know — it embarrasses me to even admit this), but it absolutely won’t be my last! Jones is a master storyteller absolutely deserving of all the accolades bestowed on her. I love the way she writes her characters, all of whom truly came alive for me: I felt for Laverne and Gwen, both of whom, at different points in the story, had to take the bad situation they were in and make the most of it; towards James, I felt nothing but scorn and contempt; Raleigh I also did not care much for, but he did have some redeeming qualities that James completely lacked. Emotionally though, I related to Dana and Chaurisse the most, even though our backgrounds and experiences are so vastly different. I think the resonance, for me at least, comes from having the shared experience of coming-of-age in an environment that has not always been kind to people of color. Though I never had to deal with bigamy in my family, I did have many of the same struggles that Dana and Chaurisse had in terms of being a teenager having to deal with the consequences of poor decisions and actions from the adults around me at the time. And I can absolutely relate to the piece about how those actions (whether intentionally or unintentionally) can have a severe, and sometimes even destructive, impact on those we love.

I can’t wait to read Jones’s newest (and perhaps most famous) work, An American Marriage , which I’ve had on my shelf for awhile already but hadn’t get gotten around to reading. And like many others, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Jones has in store for us next!
Profile Image for Betsy.
75 reviews67 followers
June 3, 2019
It's complicated

I got wrapped up in Silver Sparrow really quickly. It doesn't take long to tell that this is not a "typical" tale about bigamy with clearly defined aggressors and victims. In general, the female characters have a lot more agency than in other depictions of bigamy, so at the end of Part I, I was interested in seeing where this would lead.

But then, I hit Part II.

Part I is narrated by one of the bigamist's daughters, and Part II is narrated by his other daughter. Shortly after the switch in POV, I realized that the second half was going to be somewhat of a disappointment. The way the tale concluded just struck me as trite.

I guess that averages out to three stars?
Profile Image for Krista.
387 reviews994 followers
August 31, 2020
I think Tayari Jones is a master at writing characters. This book is told from the perspective of two sisters who share a bigamist father, but only one is aware of the other. Each sister's voice is so distinct. The first half is told from Dana's perspective, she's the secret. Then we switch to Chauresse and her voice is just as strong. I found by the end that I was frustrated with everyone, similarly to how I felt at the end of An American Marriage. But I was so invested in this family and these two girls.
Profile Image for Lauren Cecile.
Author 3 books318 followers
March 17, 2016
Enjoyable, but I wish the author had taken it to an even deeper (social-psychological) level.
Profile Image for Roxanne.
801 reviews76 followers
January 31, 2012
I have never read a story that even comes close to what Tayari Jones has created. Jones created a distinctive story, that engages the reader from beginning to end.

While this felt very Young Adult to me, I was completely engrossed by page 10. And I am definately not a young adult.

For some reason I was disappointed when the narrative voice changed from Dana to Chaurisse. The situation that both girls were put in was a result of their father's decision-making and Dana's mothers poor judgment.

I could not wait until the two sisters met and all hell would break loose. Yet I felt so heartbroken for both young ladies when they did find out the truth about their father James Witherspoon. I guess I like watching a train reck.

I must say I respect and continue to be amazed with African-American hair. I loved the detailed descriptions and constant reference by both Dana and Chaurisse to their hair.

I was disappointed in what I felt was an abrupt ending. I didn't feel closure. I didn't want to close the book and put it down. I felt there was more to be said.

I will definately be reading the two other books written by Tayari Jones.
Profile Image for TL .
1,765 reviews35 followers
March 25, 2019
3.5 stars

Narrators: Rosalyn Coleman Williams, Heather Alicia Simms - four stars... fabulous job ladies :)

Dragged a bit at times but never boring and there were some things I wish had been expanded upon more but I really enjoyed the story despite my small problems with it.

This will make you laugh, angry, and break your heart over the course of the story. It was easy (at least for me) to get drawn into the lives of these people and the inevitable trainwreck you know will happen at some point. It still puzzles me and amuses me how James thought he could have his cake and eat it too for apparently forever in his mind. (Not a spoiler, its in the book summary)

I could sympathize with both sides for various reasons at times (not James) but sometimes I still wanted to shake people.

Would recommend:).
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
949 reviews490 followers
February 24, 2021
This was not the book at all for me.

We follow two alternate pov’s of a bigamist’s two daughters as one lives their life in secret and the other in ignorance.

Secrets are revealed, everyone whines for their own personal reasons and the ending isn’t really wrapped up.

The plot bored me, I disliked every character and nothing could get me to feel otherwise. I felt no emotional connection and there was no real pay off.

Absolutely gutted as I adored an American marriage last year.
Profile Image for Camie.
885 reviews187 followers
October 31, 2018
A quick easy to read coming of age tale about two black teenage girls Dana and Chaurisse growing up in 1980's Atlanta who find out they are sisters when their father's secret lives are discovered. I'm not sure I've ever read a story about a bigamist before, but here James Witherspoon survives his duplicity with much better treatment than he deserves.
Read for 10/18 KUYH club 3.5 stars for being predictable and somewhat emotionally flat for what I'm guessing would be an intensely charged situation.
Profile Image for Claudia - BookButterflies.
407 reviews251 followers
April 27, 2021
Ohne große Erwartungen, aber mit viel Neugierde bin ich in dieses Buch „hineingegangen“. Umso schade eigentlich, dass es mich doch letztendlich sehr enttäuscht hat.

Positiv zu vermerken ist, dass Tayari Jones’ Schreibstil an vielen Stellen sehr schön ist und sie tolle Formulierungen findet, die ich auch als einzigartig empfunden habe. Die Szenerien konnte man sich auch immer gut vorstellen, auch wenn ich mehr über Haare/Frisuren gelernt habe als ich dachte lernen zu müssen. Zum Ende hin war es dann doch etwas zu viel des Guten.

Mich konnte die Geschichte leider trotzdem nicht erreichen. Weder mit Chaurisse (der offiziell „echten“ Tochter von James) noch Dana (die Tochter aus der zweiten Ehe) konnte ich richtig mitfühlen. Gefühlt habe ich leider viel Unverständnis und musste sehr oft mit dem Kopfschütteln, vor allem bei den Handlungen der Erwachsenen und was sie ihren Kindern aufbürden.

Viele Stellen waren mir zu ausschweifend und zu detailliert. Die Autorin verliert sich hier und da in (belanglosen?) Erzählungen, welche für mich nicht zur Geschichte beigetragen haben. Wer sich mit dem „schwarzen Amerika“ der 70er bis 80er Jahre) auskennt, dem werden viele Themen etwas sagen und der findet vielleicht auch seine eigene Geschichte wieder oder die der Eltern, aber als weiße Europäerin konnte ich all diese unerklärten Anekdoten nur hinnehmen und mehr oder weniger überlesen. Für mich tragen sie nichts zur Geschichte bei, was aber einfach daran liegt, dass ich vermutlich nicht die Zielgruppe bin und das Gefühl für die Zeit und Lage damals nicht bei mir aufkommt.

Am Ende bleibt das Gefühl zurück, dass es egal ist ob ich das Buch gelesen habe oder nicht. Ich hätte jederzeit abbrechen können, ohne Verlust oder Spannung darauf was das Buch noch zu bieten hat. Da es ein Rezensionsexemplar des Leseclubs war habe ich es aber beendet und werde die Geschichte vermutlich schnell wieder vergessen. Schade…
Profile Image for Kinga.
475 reviews2,123 followers
September 3, 2021
This is a good, juicy novel.

This will be no spoiler to tell you that the linchpin of the story, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist – we learn that from his daughter on the very first page. It’s the daughter from the ‘other’ family, the family who knows they are sharing a husband and a father. The original family is oblivious.
From the beginning the book obviously builds up to the climax, which in the end proves somewhat anticlimactic. Perhaps this was the author’s intentions, as she puts these words into one of her characters’ mouths:

“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.”

The novel was written in a weird first person, a bizarrely omniscient one, knowing things she couldn’t possibly know, relating things happening before her birth or out of her earshot. For me it worked as a nod towards magical realism, but I wouldn’t want to see such a technique abused, as it could get irritating quickly.

The characters of the two daughters were well done and I loved the difference between how they saw each other and how they saw themselves. They both thought the grass was greener on the other side.

I would also like to politely disagree with the reviewers who thought James Witherspoon was ultimately a good person and hard to hate. I found it easy enough.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,001 reviews218 followers
February 28, 2015
Bookclub selection. I read 50 pages then skimmed & scanned to the end. It's simply not a sort of fiction I enjoy. I just didn't care for the style or tone, nor the over-reliance on similes, clichés, facile observations, nor the florid summations sprinkled through out that make grand statements on life.
Maybe mine was not a blissful girlhood. But is anyone's? Even people whose parents are happily married to each and no else else, even these people have their share of unhappiness. They spend plenty of time nursing old slights, rehashing squabbles. So you see, I have something in common with the whole world.
Snore. Read a little too YA for me.
Profile Image for Cheryl James.
258 reviews165 followers
November 27, 2018
Enjoyed the message. Didn't really care about hearing the story from the daughters perspective. I would have liked for the story to just flow. The story ended with so many unanswered questions. I'm hoping for a sequal.
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