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Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor is a 2017 Harper publication.
'Sycamore' is an oddly entrancing and incredibly absorbing tale centered around the lives of a small, Arizona community, and how the disappearance and spirit of seventeen year old, Jess Winters, has lingered over them, haunting them all these years, until a college professor, new to the community, discovers a body, sparking speculations that finally, after all these years, the truth will finally be revealed.
The subject matter examined in this book is hardly new territory. Missing teen, tormented mother, the guilt of those who may or may not be involved in her disappearance, and the limbo, they all live in, wondering if Jess is dead, or if she ran away.
Nevertheless, despite the familiar ground covered, the story still had a way of pulling me in, teasing and taunting me with bits of information until I was completely committed to finding out what happened to Jess Winters.
However, as I walked further into the forest, it became more dense and murky, and I felt like things were moving in slow motion sometimes, but I still couldn't stop reading.
The story flips back and forth between 1991 and 2009, as we introduced to Jess, find out her backstory, who she was involved with, and what way they were connected. In 2009, we learn how these people coped with the aftermath of her disappearance, and what eventually became of them.
If you are looking for a traditional mystery, with detectives and interrogations, you won’t find that here, but there is most certainly a mystery, and the suspense is always humming in the background. Although, based on the tone of the novel, I had an inkling early on about how some things might play out, but couldn’t help but find the mystery compelling.
However, this book goes beyond the ordinary mystery or suspense elements to take a hard look at how guilt, remorse, regret, and grief takes a long-term toll and wreaks havoc on people’s lives. The book also touches on how a community, despite its shame, and secrets, can pull together, heal, and forgive.
Jess’s voice is powerful and emotive, by far the strongest one in the book, but I was also drawn to her mother, as well as a couple of other characters who seemed to have been more deeply and permanently shaped by the events that took place in 1991.
Other secondary characters are well drawn, but their connection to the meat or the heart of the story seemed tenuous, at best, and at the end of the day, I wondered why they played such a prominent role.
While the prose is lovely, the story feels disjointed at times, but overall, this is a deeply moving mystery, with a strong emphasis on healing and forgiveness in the face of insurmountable odds.
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