(Website, Twitter, Goodreads)Published by HarperCollins on May 9th 2017
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
An award-winning writer makes her debut with this mesmerizing page-turner in the spirit of Everything I Never Told You and Olive Kitteridge.
Out for a hike one scorching afternoon in Sycamore, Arizona, a newcomer to town stumbles across what appear to be human remains embedded in the wall of a dry desert ravine. As news of the discovery makes its way around town, Sycamore’s longtime residents fear the bones may belong to Jess Winters, the teenage girl who disappeared suddenly some eighteen years earlier, an unsolved mystery that has soaked into the porous rock of the town and haunted it ever since. In the days it takes the authorities to make an identification, the residents rekindle stories, rumors, and recollections both painful and poignant as they revisit Jess’s troubled history. In resurrecting the past, the people of Sycamore will find clarity, unexpected possibility, and a way forward for their lives.
Skillfully interweaving multiple points of view, Bryn Chancellor knowingly maps the bloodlines of a community and the indelible characters at its heart—most notably Jess Winters, a thoughtful, promising adolescent poised on the threshold of adulthood. Evocative and atmospheric, Sycamore is a coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a moving exploration of the elemental forces that drive human nature—desire, loneliness, grief, love, forgiveness, and hope—as witnessed through the inhabitants of one small Arizona town.
I honestly still don’t know how I feel about this story. While I found it interesting, I struggled to connect on a deeper level with the characters and plot, simultaneously enjoying the steady pace of the story and yet wanting some more action.
Eighteen years ago, Jess Winters went missing. Those in town always felt like she had run away, never to return to the small town of Sycamore, Arizona again. Her mother never believed that to be true. When a newcomer arrives and finds what appears to be human remains in a dry ravine, the rumors about who it could be begin and the memories buried in the past rise and are remembered.
Chancellor did a really wonderful job developing the characters of this story. The story is told in multiple timelines and multiple points of view so I have to give her kudos for keeping this story easy to follow. The timeline jumps from present time to past… the year that Jess arrives in Sycamore and while we learn about Jess, we’re also learning quite a bit about the town and the long time inhabitants.
Jess is a vibrant character amidst the small town backdrop. I loved her voice most when reading, and found that she was the easiest to connect to. She’s coming to terms with her place in a town that she doesn’t quite fit into, and dealing with the struggles that come at that cusp between childhood and adulthood.
While ultimately the outcome of the story is predictable, and a little depressing, the path to get there is what is most interesting. Each new character we meet has impacted both the past and present and learning their story adds to the portrayal of Jess. Chancellor excels at creating a town filled with atmosphere, one that becomes one of the characters of the story itself. While at its heart this story is a mystery, it isn’t filled with suspense or action… instead there is a quiet, peaceful steadiness to the story.
If you’re a fan of literary fiction, I highly suggest giving this story a try. An unsolved mystery, small town life, and characters that will stick with you, you definitely don’t want to miss out on this beautifully told story of grief, love and loss.
Thank you to the publisher for an early copy in exchange for my honest thoughts.