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Book Discussion: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

By Joyweesemoll @joyweesemoll

jones-tayari1Book: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 2011
Pages: 340

Source: Library

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones is the book we chose for the African American Read-In at 1330v~Thoughts of an Eclectic Reader. It’s even a book I voted for! And, I’m so glad that we did because Silver Sparrow wasn’t on my radar before and I’m very happy to have read it.

Discussion: Since Vasilly made it easy, I’m answering the questions she posed in her discussion post: Silver Sparrow Read-In and Discussion Post. The comments to that post are a great conversation about the book.

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?

Two scenes near the end made it so clear how good a father James was to Chaurisse. He gave her a skill — she was such a good driver that even as a teenager she could steer safely through a blown tire. And he gave her a business, that’s what we know from the uniform she’s wearing in the final scene. Sure, there are many other things that girls want from their dads and not “cheating” on you with a secret daughter would be way up there on the list, but a skill and a business are two solid things that Dana would never get from him.

Is Laverne’s life better or worse for having married James? What about Gwen? Does James love Laverne or Gwen? Does he love either one of them?

Oh, I think he loves both. I loved the comment on Vasilly’s discussion post by Akilah:

I think he thought he was doing what was right, but really he was just having his cake and cookie, plus some pie.

I guess I think Laverne’s life is better for having married James. Gwen, I think, could have found a way to do better on her own or with some other man who had more to give her. Perhaps, Raleigh.

Why do you think Raleigh is so loyal to James?

We didn’t get a lot about their childhood before Laverne appears, but with Bunny gone six nights a week, they must have felt like more than brothers. They had to be a whole family to each other and since Raleigh wasn’t even born into that family, he was grateful. That all seems part of his character, too — he’s the type to be loyal and grateful to whoever will offer some friendship in return.

Should Gwen have married Raleigh when she had the chance?

I hated that she made Dana make the choice at that young age, but maybe that was just a way of making a decision she didn’t know how to make — not much different from flipping a coin. It still would have been awkward. Raleigh and James wouldn’t be able to bring their families together like brothers do, so there would still be strains and secrets. But Raleigh seems like the solid sort that would have made a good partner for Gwen and parent for Dana.

Where you surprised to read about Gwen confronting Laverne?

I was going with the flow at the time of reading, but now that you ask…after all of those years, it does seem a bit odd that she would finally choose to handle it so directly. Although something needed to happen. James didn’t make something happen after the two girls met, so apparently it was up to the women as it was through much of the book.

Did you have a favorite character? Did you have a least favorite? Which characters would you like to know more about?

Dana was my favorite character. Part of the beauty of the book was that all the characters were both sympathetic and flawed. There were moments when I had one character or another in the bad guy role, but later we would be reminded that he or she was stuck in a  bad situation.

Were you surprised at the ending? Was it ever possible for this story to have a happy ending?

I was a little surprised, but the happy ending I might have wished for wouldn’t have worked in the story. The two girls had to be loyal to their mothers or we wouldn’t have liked them as much. They were never destined  to be sisters or even friends despite the things they were bound to have in common.

Overall, what did you think of the book?
The narrator’s voice really drew me in, from the first paragraph that Vasilly posted on her blog, Sunday Salon: Bookish Panic, Read-a-thons, and Read-Ins. Here’s another sample illustrating what I found so compelling about this book and the first narrator:

In the summer 1978, my mother had come to a crossroads. I am neither religious nor superstitious, but there is something otherworldly about the space where two roads come together. The devil is said to set up shop there if you want to swap your soul for something more useful. If you believe that God can be bribed, it’s also the hallowed ground to make sacrifices. In the literal sense, it’s also a place to change direction, but once you’ve changed it, you’re stuck until you come to another crossroads, and who knows how long that will be. (p. 10)

I could listen to that voice all day. I was a little worried when half-way through the book, we switched narrators. Fortunately, I liked the second narrator’s voice, too. Even more fun, the structure of the book meant that the reader knew a lot more than the narrator in the last half which made me speed through to see when and how this situation would implode. It was worth the wait!

Thanks to Vasilly at 1330v~Thoughts of an Eclectic Reader for these thoughtful questions and for hosting this African American Read-In. Be sure to visit her post for thoughts from other readers: Silver Sparrow Read-In and Discussion Post.
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