Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow is the story of two girls, Dana Lynn Yarboro and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon. They are two young women not too far apart in age, but only one of them is aware of the common thread that actually ties the two together. It’s difficult to give a very specific time frame for the story, as it jumps backward and forward quite often. The bulk of the time between the two girls is the mid/late eighties. The entire story takes place in Atlanta, Georgia. Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, we can get into the meat of the tale.
We begin with Dana’s story. Dana’s father is a bigamist, but it’s a secret that only she, her mother, her father and her uncle Raleigh know. Dana knows that her father was already married when he met her mother, but they formed a bond and married as well, her mother knowing full well that he was already spoken for. Dana’s childhood is good; her mother makes sure she gets a good education and is a respectable young girl. Dana sees her father, James Witherspoon, mainly on Wednesdays when he and Uncle Raleigh come to visit. She is not aware at her young age that it is not normal for a father to have two families. She draws a picture at school, which gets her into trouble at home, and it is then that she figures out that she is a secret.
Figuring this out puts Dana into the position of sacrificing things so her sister, Chaurisse, may continue to live her life oblivious. At the same time, whatever Chaurisse gets, so does Dana. When her sister gets a fox fur coat, so does Dana. When Dana wants a job at Six Flags one summer, she has to turn it down so that Chaurisse may apply. It’s give and take. It is important to note that James isn’t exactly keeping a long distance between his two families, as they are both in the same city. Sometimes Dana’s mother takes her along to go “surveilling” Chaurisse and her mother. This fucked-up view of her parents’ relationship, as well as feeling like the unloved child, has Dana go down a darker path in her teenage years.
Dana develops unhealthy relationships with men, which just brings up the age-old stereotype of “DADDY ISSUES,” but it’s deeper than that. She doesn’t want to be anyone’s secret. She’s a beautiful girl, but she assumes there must be something wrong with her if all of these men want to keep her hidden. She’s defiant, like most teenage girls, but she just wants to be noticed. She just wants to be loved. Dana is known for her long, thick, luscious natural hair. Many women are jealous of her mane, and her hair is constantly being flipped and touched and fawned over. This is important to keep in mind once we meet Chaurisse.
Part two gives us Chaurisse’s side of the coin. She is oblivious to the existence of Dana and her mother; though she has seen them, she has no idea about the connection the three share. She is close with her mother, who is admittedly a sad character. Though Laverne is a wonderful mother to Chaurisse, her life and reasons for being with James are utterly depressing. I wish there were a nicer way to put it, but so it goes.
Chaurisse grows up comfortably, with two loving parents and her loving Uncle Raleigh. Her mother operates a salon from their home, where Chaurisse is the shampoo girl. Her own hair is short and nappy; she longs for the day that she can wear wigs like her mother. When Chaurisse gets her hair augmented, it gives her an extra burst of confidence. Then one day, at the pharmacy, she meets a “Silver girl” and the two become friends. Though Chaurisse feels that her new friend Dana talks down to her sometimes, she likes her and even introduces her to her mother Laverne. (I know, I was on the verge of a panic attack nearly every other page.) While Dana is a good friend, there is something wild about her eyes that Chaurisse doesn’t trust.
Jones does an excellent job of building tension throughout the novel. This tension does not just exist between the daughters, but between every character. I am already looking forward to the future Oscar-winning adaptation of the novel, which is quite inevitable. It’s a good summer read. As a reader, you’re left feeling like you should side with one of the girls. It’s just a matter of which.