What I read in Singapore (1): Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

I always have such plans to do all kinds of reading when I’m holidaying in Singapore. But the truth is, with two kids, with family and friends to see, with things to do, places to go, foods to eat, it isn’t an ideal reading holiday.

So every time I go, I load up my Overdrive app from the library on my Nexus 7 tablet, and also download a few Overdrive-Kindle books, and this time also, some Scribd books. All with good intentions to do lots of reading. I did manage to read a few books this time. Here is one of them.


Silver Sparrow – Tayari Jones

I loved this book. I loved loved loved this book. Tayari Jones is such a good writer. Why don’t we talk about her and her work more? Perhaps it’s because she’s just finished writing her new book, which I recently saw on her Instagram

Silver Sparrow opens with, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.”

And that kind of explains it all. It is a story about two teenaged girls caught up in a lie of their father’s making. Dana is the secret daughter. The one whose story we first learn of, the one we sympathize with because we are reading it from her point of view. The one who only gets her father once a week. The one who has to be kept a secret and keep secrets.

Chaurisse is the ‘real’ daughter, the one who is publicly acknowledged. She lives in a different part of the same city as Dana. And she and her mother do not know about her father’s other family. We hear from her in the second half of the book.

Eventually the two girls meet and even become friends, but how can this be, with one knowing what the other does not?

While the book focuses on Dana and Chaurisse, the strength of Silver Sparrow lies also in the way Jones’ other characters are so fully developed. The two wives, the bigamist himself and even his best friend Raleigh. All of whom contribute to this unusual family. Even James’ mother, whom we only meet for a while, is fully fleshed out, that even now, it’s so easy to imagine her as a character.

Raleigh was, to me, an especially intriguing character. He’s an outsider but also part of the family, almost a second father to the girls. At the same time I am never entirely sure what he gets out of this, why he aids and abets in this deception.

Silver Sparrow is such a beauty of a book. It is elegant in the way the narrative is divided into the two girls’ point of views, not in a flitting back-and-forth way as many books are written, but how we hear the story from Dana’s viewpoint, then in the second half, the plotline continues but from Chaurisse’s side. It is mesmerizing in the lies, the half-lies, half-truths that envelop them all. And with its two young women at its centre, it is bold and full of life and youth and heart.


You can read an excerpt of the book and listen to Jones’ interview with NPR’s All Things Considered here



I read this for Akilah’s Diversity on the Shelf challenge and


 Read Diverse Books Year-Round


Leaving Atlanta

It’s funny the things one thinks about in the early morning. After a 2 am feeding, I lay in bed trying to find my way back into dreamland (it’s usually difficult, as once I’m up, I’m up). And I was thinking about the last book I finished, Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones, and how it’s taken me quite a while to sit down and write about it. Because it deserves to be written about. I eventually drifted off to sleep (only to be woken by the wee reader’s grunts around 630 as he stirred but didn’t quite wake until an hour later), but felt that today ought to be the day that I write about this book. And so, here it is.

The stories of three fifth-graders  who attend Oglethorpe Elementary are tied to the nightmare of 1979 in Atlanta, when African-American children began vanishing and turning up dead. Tasha is desperately trying to fit in with her classmates (one day she’s buds, the next day, she’s not invited to their sleepover… kids!). Rodney just doesn’t seem to be able to fit in anywhere – at home or at school, but he begins to be friendly with Octavia, the final narrator. The kids tease Octavia for being poor and for the colour of her skin (they call her “Watusi”) but she’s a tough kid and like Rodney, a loner.

Jones has crafted some wonderful characters. The stories of these three children – though schoolmates, they are from different walks of life – weave together issues of class, race, and of trying to fit in at school, as the cloud of fear hangs over the neighbourhood. It is not so much about a plot as it is a delving into their lives, their perceptions of the disappearances, their relationships with their parents and siblings and their classmates. Their fears and troubles are all too real, and I’m not just talking about the possibility of being abducted and murdered. But of those awkward years trying to fit in at school, which Jones so convincingly portrays, and which everyone can easily relate to. I didn’t expect this book to move me the way it did, I didn’t expect that three stories from the perspectives of three children could tell me so much about the way life works. Don’t you just love it when a book overthrows all your expectations?

I’m definitely adding Tayari Jones to my read-everything list. Not just because of this book, but also because of her writing elsewhere, such as this article on book publicity and her blog.