Thursday, June 9, 2011
Book Review: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
This book has a terrific first line, and a very intriguing concept: a novel about bigamy, told from the point of view of the daughter of the illegitimate marriage. Although what surprised me is that it isn't only told from the point of view of Dana, but also from her half-sister, Chaurisse. Unlike most dual-narrator books, the narration doesn't alternate. Instead Dana takes the first half of the book and Chaurisse the second. Because I wasn't expecting the narration change, the first few chapters of Chaurisse's section were a bit jarring to me, but I got back into the story pretty quickly.
The story mostly takes place in 1980s Atlanta, but does jump around a little bit when explaining how and why the second marriage, between James and Gwendolyn, takes place. It's very interesting to see all the repercussions through the eyes of the daughters, instead of the husband and wives, which is what you'd normally expect. Dana has always known about Chaurisse, but Chaurisse doesn't know about Dana. Living only a couple of miles apart, they do run into each other occasionally, despite James's efforts (at Dana's expense) to keep them apart. Unfortunately for James, Dana's curiosity and resentment gets the better of her and she doesn't stay away from Chaurisse.
In some ways the ending is inevitable from the very first line. It's no spoiler to tell you the climax comes with the revealing of secrets. But what results from the uncovering was not exactly what I had expected. I thought something more would happen with Raleigh, James's best friend and constant companion through the book. I was also surprised how James's relationship with Gwendolyn and Dana changed. Although it probably was much more realistic than what I was expecting to happen.
Ms. Jones has a good ear for teenagers (Dana and Chaurisse were only 4 years older than me so I really loved the scenes in the '80s in high school, as it was very close to my own high school years.) She captures the fears, insecurities, the rebelliousness, and even the plain contrariness that sometimes causes teens to do things that even harm themselves in the end, purely to hurt someone else. Especially if it's retaliation for having been hurt. Although this novel is marketed towards adults, I see big potential for cross-over to teenagers.
Well-written, with an eye for detail and authentic language, Silver Sparrow gives voice to both sides of a very complicated family.
I got this book free at the WNBA book swap.