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Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
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Sycamore

by Bryn Chancellor

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Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor, is the type of book that will stay with you for a very long time. The story is as much about life in general as it is about the life of a girl who went missing when she was 17 years old.

This is a mystery in the broad sense of the term. A girl went missing and no one knows what happened to her. That is pretty much by definition a mystery. If you're hoping for a procedural or a story that unfolds in the form of some type of investigation, this is not that book. If, however, you set aside the genre elements of so many mysteries and instead think of this as a mystery such as you find in life then you will be richly rewarded. The mystery does indeed get "solved" by the end, so unlike so many of life's mysteries this does come with an answer.

While there are quite a few characters in the story they quickly get sorted out in your mind and as you skip from 1991 to 2009 and back you begin to get an intimate portrait of small town life and the individual lives of those there. The characters are richly textured and while you may find yourself identifying with one of them in particular you will also likely see shades of yourself in almost every person. By the end I cared about each and every character, even the ones I found least sympathetic. They are, like myself, human and they struggle daily with the dreams and realities of their lives.

I would highly recommend this to all but those who simply like quick breezy reads that require little in the way of empathy or active engagement. I don't mean to imply this novel requires effort to read but rather that it will make you want to engage more closely with the people who inhabit the pages.

Reviewed from a copy made available through Goodreads' First Reads. ( )
  pomo58 | Jul 2, 2017 |
I'm not sure what exactly to say about this book. It is obvious that many people just loved this novel, but for me it was a very difficult read.

Yes this was a very literary, beautifully written and very deep novel and not something you would want to take on vacation to perk yourself up or to get lost in. The book does not really end well -or at least it doesn't end in any way other than the one which we already figured out right fro the beginning. As a matter of fact, in some ways it was a deeply disturbing novel - (this is a bit of a spoiler but needs to be said as it is missing from the synopsis) -there is a pedophilia aspect to this book that some will find...disconcerting? upsetting? contrived? brilliant?

It was an interesting choice of the author to tackle something like this subject, but it is not the main crux of the book...it just seems to be that way since the topic is so controversial.

I struggled to get at least half-way though and them at about 80% I just started skimming to find out for sure how this was going to conclude.

My problems mostly stem from the fact that this book is told from so many different view points and the time frame switches back and forth from the year 1991 to the year 2009 (and I think we even did a horizontal time shift at one point. LOL).

Another thing I had difficulties with is that most of the main character's seem to need heavy doses of anti-depressants and top notch psychiatrists - there was not a single person who didn't have some sort of angst problem, which for me made this a very depressing read. Yes, this is normal in any town -large or small, but it might have helped to have one person who doesn't go off the deep end, who can keep their cool even during the worst that life can dish out.

I do understand that not everyone's lives are filled with sunshine and roses, so this is another reason why this book is going to be a hit. It really deals with real life in all of it's uncomfortable nakedness.

For me, I need something that takes me away from the problem's in my life and being reminded for this many pages on how bad it is out there just made me more depressed than I usually am.
*ARC supplied by publisher/and or author. ( )
  Cats57 | May 22, 2017 |
Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor is a very highly recommended debut literary mystery that explores a gamut of emotions. This is compelling reading.

In 1991 Seventeen year old Jess Winters has just moved to Sycamore, AZ, with her mother, Maud. Jess's father has left them for his new young wife and new baby daughter. We know that Jess disappears in December of 1991 and no one knows what happened to her. Her disappearance has haunted the town. Her mother Maud has never given up hope that she would find an answer to what happened someday. In 2009 a woman out walking finds bones that may be those of Jess.

Sycamore flips back and forth in time, as well as the voices of different characters, between 1991 and 2009. The story of what happened to Jess back in 1991 slowly emerges, as does the current information about the other citizens of Sycamore, the former friends, classmates, neighbors, and teachers who knew Jess, then and now. The multiple points of view enrich the story and give an added emotional depth to the answers that are forthcoming as the novel progresses.

This spellbinding novel covers a multitude of emotions and subjects. It is a coming-of-age story with all the teenage angst that this suggests. It is an exploration of friendship and loneliness. It covers a variety of betrayals and faithlessness. It delves into love, grief, secrets, passions, rumors, disillusion, unfaithfulness, and hope. The novel begins quietly, but gradually becomes increasingly tense and complicated. These are broken people depicted on the pages of Sycamore, but even broken people search for happiness and a way to belong.

This novel is a well-written gem. The writing is marvelous. I was totally engrossed in both narratives, 1991 and 2009. If you enjoy literary fiction, as I do, you are going to see several corresponding themes running through the novel, connecting past and present. If you want to sit back and enjoy a well-written mystery, Sycamore will also fit that description. This is a novel that should be savored. And keep your eyes on Chancellor for more novels in the future.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.
http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2017/05/sycamore.html
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1995050539 ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | May 9, 2017 |
Jess Winters and her mother, Maud, arrive in the small town of Sycamore, Arizona hoping to start afresh: Maud is recently divorced from Jess' father and both are reeling from the event in different ways. Maud copes by sleeping most of the day away, but a restless teenage Jess wanders the town, searching for peace. Eventually she finds a friendship with Dani Newell, the local "smart kid" at the high school, and her boyfriend, Paul, the son of Jess' employer, Iris. Maybe, just maybe, Jess thinks, she could be happy here.

Flash forward nearly twenty years, when a new resident to town, another restless spirit, stumbles upon some bones in the local dried up lake. Residents immediately fear they belong to Jess, who disappeared shortly before Christmas: a young seventeen-year-old who was never seen again.

Oh, this is a magical book. I felt an immediate attachment to Jess from the first opening chapter. I was connected to her as a child of divorce, as someone who once had that urge to wander, who shared that restlessness as an adolescent. You quickly find that Chancellor has the power to create such real characters, who draw you in from the start.

The book--and the story of Jess--unfolds in snatches and snippets of these characters. Each chapter is told by a different inhabitant of Sycamore, and we get reminiscences and memories of their past, telling more about what happened with Jess, as well as their current life. We also get chapters of Jess' time as a sixteen-and seventeen-year-old in the town. In a way, it is as if we are being caught up backwards sometimes. I was captivated by the oddly suspenseful way they each tell stories from different times and varying viewpoints. It's an interesting (and effective) technique. You are piecing together a mystery, yet also reading a beautiful novel of interwoven characters.

One of the most amazing things about this novel is that for each different point of view, for each character, they have their own voice. Chancellor captures each one in their own unique way: the different way they speak. Some chapters are told in a distinctive sort of format and more. Every one has their own personality. It allows the characters--and the entire town--to really come to life so easily as you read. You can picture this entire small town and its inhabitants so clearly because of her beautiful, clear writing. It's just such a powerful book and so well-written.

There's a sweet tenderness to this book that I cannot truly describe. It really touched me. It's not always an easy read, or a happy one, but it's a lovely book in many ways. It's wonderfully written, surprisingly suspenseful, and a heartbreaking but amazing journey. I highly recommend it. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 05/09/2017.

Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Google ( )
  justacatandabook | Apr 25, 2017 |
After her father leaves his family for another woman, Jesse and her mother, move from Phoenix to the small town of Sycamore. Jess has trouble making friends at first, so she walls at night to try to sort out her thoughts, come to terms with her different life, her loneliness and the loss of her father. Eventually she will make a new friend, Dani, and gets a job at the local pecan orchard. Unfortunately this life will implode in a big way when a secret is revealed, leaving a scandal and Jess once again friendless. Out walking again at night, exercising her grief, she will disappear, never to be seen again. Until a new woman come to town, a professor slated to teach at the local University, find some bones while she is out running.

The books that seem to impact me the most, seem either to be darkly atmospheric, or unassuming and quiet, like this one. We hear from each of the characters, many whom still either live in the town or have returned. We learn how they have fared since Jesse has gone messing, how her mother has grieved. What people knew but didn't say, secrets revealed or kept, lies or incomplete truths told. We hear Jesse's back story from Jesse herself, a confused young woman who should have had her whole life ahead. A character driven novel but also a novel of a town, that dealt with the unknowable for many years. For some people the discovery of the bones will be an ending, but for a few it will be a new beginning.

Although there is a mystery at the heart of this, it is in no way a thriller. It is a wonderfully written and ultimately a touching novel, of grieving, of moving forward and coming to terms with lives as they are now. Loved the town, the characters and the story, the author's debut.

ARC from Harper publishers.
Publishes May 9th. ( )
  Beamis12 | Mar 30, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062661094, Hardcover)

"Sycamore is an amazing showcase for Bryn Chancellor's great talent, the way she allows each of the various characters to shine on their own, but connects them with such subtlety that their light forms a constellation that maps out the grief, the regrets, and the strength of an entire community. This is a powerful debut novel, one without flaw, and it will slay you."—Kevin Wilson, author of Perfect Little World and The Family Fang

"Compelling . . . weaves a suspenseful web around a small town in the years following a disappearance. With astute emotional and psychological observations, Chancellor successfully shows the power of the unknown." —Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life

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. 

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 09 Dec 2016 08:51:43 -0500)

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.… (more)

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