Written By Tayari Jones
Published 2011 by Algonquin Books
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. This is the third stunning novel from an author deemed one of the most important writers of her generation (Synopsis from goodreads)
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It made me sad in places and there were several things in the book that made me want to pull my hair out. The subject matter is something I find incredibly interesting and while I have watched several movies surrounding it I have never read anything on it.
So the story is split into two parts told from the perspective of both of Jame’s daughters. The first half told by Dana Lynn the secret daughter and the second told by Bunny the” legitimate” daughter. James meets Dana’s mother (Gwendolyn) after he has been married to Bunny’s mother (Laverne) for 10 years. Gwendolyn is well aware of the marriage but starts a relationship anyway. From the time Dana is little she is aware that her father has another family and that no one can know about her or her mother. The only other person who is truly aware of what’s going on is James best friend Raleigh. Raleigh helps keep James secret and fills in for him in Gwendolyn’s and Dana’s lives. Dana and Bunny are born only months apart and grow up in close but separate circles. Eventually they meet and that has some major consequences for everyone.
Throughout Dana’s life she takes a back seat to Bunny without Bunny even knowing. At one point Dana wants to go to a science camp but can’t because Bunny is already going. Later Dana decides what college she wants to go to and the reason it’s OK is because James is pretty sure Bunny wants to go somewhere else.
I can’t say that I actually liked one single character in this book. I feel sorry for some of them and I outright despise others. James is a truly pathetic father he makes no bones about the fact that he has chosen Bunny over Dana. I tried but could not find a single redeeming quality in James. Raleigh is a kind man but kind of a drip. He seems to lack a back bone and I really dislike people without them. Gwendolyn is perhaps my least favorite character. She walked right into this situation and then allowed her child to suffer because of it. The author gives some perspective on why Gwendolyn did what she did and I can understand it what I can’t understand is why she stays in the situation! Don’t get me wrong James is truly awful but as bad as it’s sounds I often expect men to be jerks. A mother that won’t stick up for her child that I can’t get behind. Laverne is a times sympathetic and pathetic. I think she might at least suspect that James is cheating but you never actually get the answer to that. She makes a decision at the end that really bothers me and makes me end up disliking her. Bunny and Dana are the real innocents in this whole story and I felt for both of them for different reasons. Neither of them was truly likable but they did come off sympathetic and I really wanted things to workout for them.
At the end of the day I don’t have to like characters to like a book. These characters may not be likable but they are well written and sometimes complex.This book caught my attention right away and I couldn’t put it down. I ended up finishing this book in a day. The ending prevented me from giving this 5 stars . I felt like after all the depth the book had given up to that point it just left us with nothing at the end.