With the opening line, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity and two teenage girls caught in the middle. Set in Atlanta in the 1980s, Silver Sparrow revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families: his public one — and his secret one. The two daughters meet and form a friendship, but only one of them knows they are sisters. Jones elegantly portrays the fragility of her characters with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention and try to imagine themselves as women.
Oil on Water: A Novel, by Helon Habila (Norton)
In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists — a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq — are sent to find her. As Rufus and Zaq navigate polluted rivers in search of “the white woman,” they must contend with the brutality of both government soldiers and militants. Assailed by irresolvable versions of the “truth” about the woman’s disappearance, dependent on the kindness of strangers of unknowable loyalties, their journalistic objectivity will prove unsustainable, but other values might yet salvage their human dignity.
Rebecca Walker is a frequent contributor to The Root.