Silver Sparrow is a novel with two stories—that of half-sisters Dana Yarboro and Chaurisse Witherspoon. Though they share the same father, their lives are drastically different. Ignorant of her half-sister, Chaurisse’s life is simple and sweet. She plays the piccolo, adores her mother and worries about her weight. As the illegitimate daughter, Dana is tortured by her knowledge of her own secret existence, and the injustice of sharing her father’s affections with a girl who does not know her own good fortune.
Their father James is able to maintain his double life for more than a decade, keeping his daughters in different neighborhoods and schools in Atlanta, making sure they cannot cross paths. But James is obviously not omniscient, and the girls grow up, and go to parties, and date boys, and inevitably bump into each other. Afterward, Chaurisse walks away still ignorant of their relation and thinking she may have made a new friend, but Dana leaves intoxicated by her curiosity and jealousy, and begins to pursue a friendship with her sister. As they get to know each other and forge the beginnings of a friendship, Chaurisse feels a connection with Dana that she cannot explain, and Dana is troubled by the dilemma of harming her sister with the truth, or perpetuating the lie their father is too cowardly to correct.
Jones captures the girls’ voices—fraught with self-doubt and adolescent anxiety—and personalities in a way that makes them seem more desperate for their father’s love, and more vulnerable to the ruinous truth that has always been with them whether they knew of it or not. When Jones makes the shift from Dana’s point of view to Chaurisse’s, when we get to see the girls not only as they see themselves, but as they see each other, the reader will find it impossible to take sides.
Ultimately, “Silver Sparrow” gets the reader wrestling with those pesky unanswerable questions. Is our future determined more by choices made for us, or the ones we make ourselves? Is there really beauty in ignorance, or only in truth? And what is worse: to live a lie, or be one? Jones doesn’t provide definitive answers, but the story she has crafted will keep you questioning long after you put it down. (Naomi Huffman)
By Tayari Jones
Algonquin, 352 pages, $19.95