Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones + I'm Back

*dusts off blog*

*taps mic*

Well HELLO! It has been a while. Like over a year, a while, but I'm back. The Hubs bought a new domain for me as a part of my birthday present and I couldn't just let Musings sit after that, so here I am!

So what have I been up to? Well, I relocated across the country and Pacific twice in one year. When I tell you that was not fun, I mean it. We welcomed a new addition to our family late last year, a baby, she's 8 weeks now and brings the total of my girls to three! YIKES! I can only imagine the trouble I'm in for in about 7 years.

 My reading during the break has mostly consisted of children's books, beginning readers, and now we're into "chapter books" as my 7 year old likes to call them. We're especially loving Nancy Drew, and the Magic Tree House series. Every now and then, I found time to read a good book for myself, mostly Fiction and Fantasy.

Anyway, I've scoured "the best of 2011" lists from countless blogs and have many books I can't wait to read and muse about!

Now on to my first review of 2011...

One book I had the pleasure of reading over my break was Silver Sparrow. It was a complete impulse buy and ended up being oh-so worth it.

My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother.

So begins Silver Sparrow.

Set in Atlanta during the 1980's, Silver Sparrow tells the story of two sisters, Dana Lynn Yarbaro and Chaurisse Witherspoon, their father, James Witherspoon and their mothers Gwendolyn and Lavern.The story is told in two parts, starting with with Dana's first person narrative. Chaurisse takes up the second half. The narratives, just like the girls, couldn't be more different.

Dana, with her pretty looks and wise-beyond-her-years attitude is very much the product of living her whole life knowing that she was second best. She lived in the shadows of her father's life, unable to be claimed publicly and being told that she was a secret, all while seeing her father with a family that he did claim and spend time with out in the open. Her father, a bigamist, had another wife and daughter that lived in the same city as she and her mother. Dana's matter of fact voice details the coming together of her parents, revealing how it came to be that her already married father ended up marrying her mother. There is a sadness to Dana that grips you through the pages. Her tough exterior is just a cover for the inner turmoil she struggles with. It's apparent in the first few pages that Dana, though her father's first daughter, feels she is second best in his heart.
"In my mind, Chaurisse is his real daughter. With wives it only matters who gets there first. With daughters, the situation is a bit more complicated."
It would seem that with daughters it only matters if they were born to the first wife, and in Chaurisse's case she reaped the benefits of being the daughter of James' first wife. Chaurisse, plain and plump, is naive and almost innocent in her narrative. She and her mother are both in the dark about her father's double life. He has always been a loving father to her and a good husband to her mother. The bitterness that tinges Dana's narrative is nowhere to be found in Chaurisse's. She is less frank and more self deprecating, seen quite clearly in her description of her parents and in essence, herself.
"If you saw them walking down the street, if you noticed them at all, you would think the two of them might produce invisible children."
If Chaurisse is invisible, she's that to everyone but Dana, who sees her in a way that she doesn't see herself. To Dana, Chaurisse has it all. A house, a family, but mostly, their father. She gets the recognition that Dana has never received. She is able to go out with their father and be claimed publicly by him. Chaurisse unknowingly gets first pick of everything that involves both girls, from what camp they can attend to what job they can have. If Dana happened to be accepted to something that Chaurisse had been also, Dana couldn't go. If Dana and Chaurisse got a job at the same place, Dana couldn't accept. Their father, so bent on keeping his second life a secret, forbids Dana from ever going anywhere near Chaurisse.

Due to the constant slights, a bitterness grows within Dana. It becomes inevitable that she will rebel, but how she goes about it and the results of her actions could be predicted by no one, not even Dana herself.

Silver Sparrow is a truly gripping novel that I flew through. Jones' writing is so crisp and readable that the pages just about turn themselves. I was completely engrossed in Dana and Chaurisse's lives and I was hopeful that somehow they would be able to make something good out of the mess they'd inherited.

The characterization is rich yet simplistic. The characters are not overdone, instead they quietly manifest through their actions and Jones' effortless prose. The premise of bigotry was taken on in a way that I haven't seen represented before in books. This is no Big Love where everyone is one big happy family. This has no religious backing. It is simply bad decision making and deceit. Tayari Jones took on the topic of bigotry and gave it a face, a family, and two innocent sisters. I enjoyed every minute of it. Grade A.

Visit Tayari Jones here.


  1. Welcome home, Brie! We missed you. :) AND, congratulations on your new baby girl. 8 weeks? That's precious.

    As always, a gorgeous review. I love that you chose a strong fiction story as your first book to review. This caught my attention:

    "The characterization is rich yet simplistic."

    I've read a few books with that style in the last couple of years and they seem to really draw me in more than books with over-dramatized or dense prose. Although if dense prose is well done, it can be gripping. I read one fiction book at the end of the year (haven't review it yet) "We the Animals by Justin Torres," that fits your wonderful description to a "t," and I can tell you that it made quite an impact on me too!

    Of course, I'm also curious about Silver Sparrow, Dana and how bigotry plays a role in their lives. :)

    PS: We all thank your hubby! Great to have you back at Musings.

  2. Hi Hils, thank you for the welcome back. I was reluctant to return after such a long time, but thanks to your comment, I'm feeling better now!

    I agree with your feelings on prose. While I do love to immerse myself in dense prose every now and then, I appreciate even more writing that is simple and still able to take me there (wherever there may be.)

    Now I'm interested in We the Animals. I'm going to have to look it up!

  3. *comes in with swifter in hands*
    *and a bottle of champagne* Why not, right?

    Welcome back!

    The Hubs bought a new domain for me as a part of my birthday present [...]

    Really??! What an awesome gift! I've really been enjoying interacting with you on twitter.. I'm SO glad to see you decide to rekindle your blogging.

    I've added this book to my queue, but will wait until I'm in the mood for something so serious and tough on the heart. But it sounds SO good that I don't want to pass it by. Thanks for the lovely review.

    xoxo <--give some of this to the baby for me. Three girls! Love it. :)

    1. LOL! Thanks Christine!

      Yes, twitter is fun. It's been great interacting with and getting to know you. :)

      I'll definitely pass the love on!

  4. This is one novel that took my breath away--and Jones has been getting major praise for it as well, everywhere from O, the Oprah Magazine to Poets & Writers--as well as being the Indie #1 pick. It's all deserved. Gorgeously written, this literate, haunting novel tells the story of a bigamist and the two daughters he has from two different families. A novel about the secrets we keep, the lies we tell, and the bonds we both break and form, Silver Sparrow is just a knockout.