SILVER SPARROW

Tayari Jones

With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two 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 yet flawed characters—the father,

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With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two 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 yet flawed characters—the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle—she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another’s lives.

At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers—think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye—Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.

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  • Algonquin Books
  • Paperback
  • May 2012
  • 368 Pages
  • 9781616201425

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$13.95

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About Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones is the author of two previous novels. Jones holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa. She serves on the MFA faculty at Rutgers.

Author Website

Praise

“[An] expansive third novel…Jones effectively blends the sisters’ varied, flawed perspectives as the characters struggle with presumptions of family and the unwieldy binds of love and identity.”—Booklist

“A love story… full of perverse wisdom and proud joy….Jones’s skill for wry understatement never wavers.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

“If your mom is a fan of emotionally charged morality tales (and whose mom isn’t?), she’s going to devour Tayari Jones’s third novel, Silver Sparrow, in a single sitting. Jones, a native Atlantan, once again mines her town for material and strikes serious pay dirt. Sparrow introduces us to sisters Dana Lynn Yarboro and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon, who were born four months apart from different mothers and have never met. One reason? Their father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist who has gone to great pains to ensure they remain in the dark about each other. And when they do meet, that’s when Sparrow gets really good.”—Essence

“A graceful and shining work about finding the truth.”—Library Journal, starred review

Discussion Questions

1. Could this story have had a happy ending?

2. Dana and Chaurisse both tell stories of what happened before they were born. What did you think of this technique? Are there stories about things that you cannot possibly remember that you feel almost like you witnessed?

3. There are many moments of truth in Silver Sparrow. What should Gwen have done when she discovered her pregnancy?

4. Gwen tells Dana that they have an advantage over Laverne and Chaurisse because they know the truth. Is this true?

5. Should Gwen have married Raleigh when she had the chance?

6. Is it possible to have a healthy relationship that is not monogamous?

7. There is so much talk these days about fatherhood—contrasting the deadbeat dad with the Bill Cosby-type father. How do you evaluate James Witherspoon, who is both?

8. Is Laverne’s life better or worse for having married James? What about Gwen?

9. Why do you think Raleigh is so loyal to James? Is this devotion warranted?

10. Tayari Jones often writes about the way real people interact with history, for example Gwen’s feelings about the death of Martin Luther King. What do you think of this technique? Have you interacted with history? How did it affect your personal story.

11. In the chapter, “Love and Happiness” there is an appearance of an actual historical figure—the woman who threw the grits on Al Green. Were you familiar with this story? If you were, did this chapter change your understanding of it?

12. Which of the characters was your favorite? Who would you like to know more about?