In the best of all possible worlds, a young girl in Atlanta will enjoy the security of both mother and father, but Dana Lynn Yarboro’s position in society dictates that she will always be second-best, her father, James Witherspoon’s affection promised first to his legitimate daughter, Chaurisse. Dana is the child of the union between Witherspoon and Gwendolyn Yarboro, but James is already married to Laverne, who became pregnant with Chaurisse when the teens first met. While Laverne’s daughter has legitimacy, Gwen’s daughter possesses mother’s beauty and her long, flowing hair as well, both Gwen and Dana blessed with attributes unavailable to Chaurisse, who is burdened with ordinariness. Chaurisse wistfully refers to such natural beauties as “silver girls.”
Gwen demands that James marry her - hence a ceremony across state lines in Mississippi - so that Dana will not carry the taint of illegitimacy, even though this second ceremony renders James a bigamist. As the years pass, Gwen and Dana “surveil” James in his other life, Gwen exacting punishment from James, demanding he level the playing field between the girls and provide Dana the same opportunities that Chaurisse enjoys. Although Dana is excruciatingly aware of Chaurisse, the other girl remains oblivious to her half-sister’s existence. In 1987 Atlanta, when both daughters are in their late teens, a reckoning is on the horizon, the inevitable collision of families in a city with a small-town reality.
In two sections, Jones gives voice to each daughter - first Dana, then Chaurisse - the difficult lives their mothers live and the choices they have made, aspirations to middle-class opportunities and the tentative overtures of the opposite sex. Because of the author’s sensitive treatment of mothers and daughters, the angst of young womanhood and the yearning for a close friend (a “sister”), each girl is fully-fleshed, her behavior changing from obedient and docile to rebellious and independent in the usual manner of teenagers, the rigid rules of a father finally challenged by the exposure of what he has done.
It is perhaps uncommon that James marries Laverne in Georgia and Gwen in Mississippi, becomes a bigamist and manages tow life two separate family lives for so many years, but not so unusual that an unfaithful man fathers children outside wedlock. What is terribly sad is that two lonely girls cannot have the sister each craves because of Witherspoon’s selfishness and dishonesty: “What’s done in the dark shall come to the light.”