NEA Big Read
Silver Sparrow

Silver Sparrow

by Tayari Jones

I think of it [writing] as a sort of meditation, a way that we can connect simultaneously to ourselves and to something larger than ourselves.


  1. As Dana says, bigamy "happens all the time, and not just between religious fanatics, traveling salesmen, handsome sociopaths, and desperate women" (page 4). Do you know personally of a situation involving a secret wife or secret children? How did the situation come to light, and how was it resolved?
  2. In the case of Silver Sparrow, what do you think was more harmful, the bigamy itself, or the deception? If James had been honest, would he have been able to integrate Dana into his life in a healthy way? Once the truth is out, does Laverne have any moral obligation to be a stepmother to Dana?
  3. When we think of custody, we think about parents gaining custody of children. But children also have custody of parents. In Silver Sparrow, Chaurisse has custody of her father, James. Would it be possible for him to be an equal father to two daughters since they do not live in the same house? Is it inevitable that one daughter would be favored over the other?
  4. When Gwen discovers that James is expecting a child with his wife Laverne, she prays that the child be a healthy daughter. Would this story have been different if Chaurisse or Dana had been a son?
  5. In her own life, author Tayari Jones stopped using the term half sister to talk about her own sisters after her nephew objected to the term. "There are no half people," he said. Do you think sibling relationships should depend on whether they have the same parents on both sides? Is the family obligation the same?
  6. Marriage and children are closely linked in Silver Sparrow. At the age of fourteen, Laverne marries James because she is pregnant. A decade later, Gwen marries James because she, too, is pregnant. Are these types of marriages based on love or obligation? Were James's and Laverne's mothers right to force the teenagers to marry? Was James honorable in some way to offer to marry Gwen?
  7. Tayari Jones often writes about the way real people interact with history; for example, Gwen's feelings about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. How have you interacted with history? How did it affect your personal story?
  8. Much of the book is set in Laverne's salon, the Pink Fox. How do hair and beauty figure into this story? Do you think your own hair has impacted your life? If so, for better or for worse?
  9. Silver Sparrow opens with Dana's statement, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist," and then Dana goes on to narrate the first half of the story. How did you feel when the story switched to Chaurisse's point of view? Did you feel more sympathy for one sister than the other? How do you think you would have felt had you heard Chaurisse's story first?
  10. Near the end of the story, Gwen tells Laverne the truth. Was it her place to tell her? Why do you think she chose such a public setting—Laverne's salon—to break the news?
  11. When talking about the book, Tayari Jones often jokes, "Every bigamist needs a wing man." When she says this, she is, of course, talking about Raleigh, James's best friend. Why do you think that Raleigh is so loyal to James, not only keeping his secret but performing a lot of the legwork to keep the two families afloat?
  12. Raleigh harbors a secret love for Gwen and even proposes marriage to her. When did you first notice that his feelings were more than just that of a brother-in-law? Do you think she should have married him? Was she right to let her daughter Dana make the decision?
  13. Who do you think sends the mysterious postcard at the end of the novel?
  14. Some readers have said that James seems like two different men when he is with his two families. On the one hand, he is a loving father to Chaurisse, offering unconditional love. With Dana, he is present, but his love is always in jeopardy and requires her secrecy. How do we judge such a man? Do we judge him by his best deeds or his worst? Or do we try and find some middle ground? Is James a good father? Is he a good man?
  15. Who was better off in the book—Dana or Chaurisse? Chaurisse had a happier life, but she and her mother were living a lie. Dana was hurt, but she was living with the truth. Is it better to be sheltered and deceived but happy, or to be informed but damaged? Why?
  16. At the end of the book, Dana says, "You only lie to people you love." Is this true? Does James lie to Laverne because he loves her too much to tell her the truth? Does Dana lie about her identity because of her love for Chaurisse?
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