Leaving Atlanta, Tayari Jones

Between 1979 and 1981, at least 28 black children and adults were killed by a serial killer in Atlanta. Tayari Jones grew up in Atlanta in this time period, and two of the murdered children were from her elementary school. Leaving Atlanta is about those experiences–what it’s like to be a black child in a time and place where black children are being snatched and murdered. It is a little bit like being afraid for your life, but it’s much more like going to school and worrying about the distinction between being from near the projects rather than actually from the projects.

Tayari Jones really is wonderful at writing for a child’s perspective. Tasha and Rodney and Octavia are frightened of the serial killer, but unlike their parents–and this, I think, is the point for Tayari Jones–they are not primarily frightened of the serial killer. Their days are filled with the things kids worry about and adults often forget to take seriously: avoiding conflict with the popular mean girls; having new dresses even if they don’t fit; where to sit at lunch.

You will note that I am not employing my usual review format for Leaving Atlanta (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository). This is related to the problem I had with it. As wonderful as Tayari Jones is at evoking the atmosphere of this time period in Atlanta, that is not enough to hang a whole book on. For me. I am not the woman to appreciate interlocking slice-of-life vignettes, be they ever so well drawn. I YEARN FOR ACTION.

(In books. In life I prefer to be generally sedate.)

I yearn for, anyway, a story. That is the way a book carries me along, and without it I am lost.

Tayari Jones fans, weigh in. If I liked her writing and liked her characters but craved more plot, will I enjoy Silver Sparrow and The Untelling? Yea or nay?

  • Sharon

    I am with you on (and say hallelujah to, and will probably quote at some point) your comments on plot, and I’d say that Silver Sparrow is less slice of life than the book you’re reviewing, but not nearly as much as I’d hoped. It’s a short story worth for forward drive in a full novel. There’s some lovely characterization, portraits of some very poignant characters, but I suspect it’s not the book for such as we.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hm. Noted. Then I will sadly take Tayari Jones’s other books off of my library wish lists. Alas!

  • You grew up with a serial killer too (in fact, two of them.) Did this bring back memories? I’m wondering, is it different in elementary school from high school?

    • Gin Jenny

      You know, it really didn’t at all. The kids in this book had a different situation than ours, partly because they are much littler than I was, but largely I think because they are the exact demographic being targeted.

  • Is this book based on the murders conducted by Wayne Williams? I remember these and I have always thought of them as the Chatahoochee River murders. Although I now live in Georgia, I didn’t at the time. But my sister lived in Atlanta (and still does) and I found the murders particularly close to home. I find it almost impossible to read about child murders, so I may not pick this one up, but I like your review of it.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yep, he’s the guy, although his Wikipedia page suggests there is some doubt about his guilt. Anyway, yes. Those ones. The book’s much more about being in elementary school than it is about child murders, but yeah, there are parts that are upsetting.

  • I had no idea this book was more slice of life than novel. I think you should still give Silver Sparrow a try. I really enjoyed it.

    • Gin Jenny

      Okay, noted. I will give it a try.

  • I found Silver Sparrow a little to slow for me…but the premise of Leaving Atlanta sounds super interesting.

    • Gin Jenny

      Oo, very mixed responses re: Silver Sparrow. The premise of Leaving Atlanta is super interesting — I’d like to see it played out a little more interestingly though. :/

  • I loved Silver Sparrow – it has more plot so you will probably like it. This one sounds like something I may enjoy.

    • Gin Jenny

      Noted. It’s still on my library wish list but I may wait a bit before reading it–I don’t want to be in a cranky mood with Tayari Jones when I pick it up. :p

  • aartichapati

    I liked Silver Sparrow because the characters were very strong, but there is not much resolution to the story and it is quite sad, overall, so that can be tough to take.

    • Gin Jenny

      Oh wow, I just read what the premise is. That does sound awfully sad. But interesting! A very interesting premise at least.