Silver Sparrow is heartbreaking. I’ll just start there.
It’s not heartbreaking in the same way that The Color Purple or Beloved were. None of the characters have experienced slavery firsthand and we don’t have to worry about Dana getting sold off away from Gwen. We don’t even have to worry about dead baby siblings haunting the place.
What makes it heartbreaking is that this family has their own inner dilemmas that they are dealing with, but we the readers know that it will only get worse as the Dana reaches adulthood. Despite the fact that the book takes place decades after The Color Purple and Beloved, the family still is experiencing strong racism, which will only worsen when Dana leaves the predominantly black neighborhood she’s grown up in. Dana’s friend Ronalda even warns her about it as they apply for colleges.
““But living here, you don’t know anything about white people. Where I’m from, everything is mixed. In Atlanta, at least out here where we stay at, everything is so black that ya’ll don’t know what it feels like to be black.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said.
“You’ll see,” she said. “You get out to Holyoke with those white people and you will see exactly what I mean.”” (pg 151)
Beloved takes place in 1856 (ish). The Color Purple takes place in the 1930s. Silver Sparrow takes place in the 1980s, less than thirty years ago. And yet, the one striking similarity between the main characters of the books is that they all view being black as the root of most, if not all, their problems. Ronalda’s phrasing ‘what it feels like to be black’ implies that ‘feeling black’ means feeling bad or feeling less than. The hope is that, as time passes, this will become an outdated way of thinking, but how long will that have to take?