Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor

Sycamore

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 uns...

Title:Sycamore
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0062661116
Format Type:ebook
Number of Pages:336 pages

Sycamore Reviews

  • Diane S ☔
    Mar 29, 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

    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.

  • Victoria
    Jul 05, 2017

    This is a quiet story that snuck up on me with how much I ended up immersing myself in the life of a small town. Slow to start, but once I settled into its rhythm and pace I began to appreciate the characters’ distinctive voices, all rendered

    This is a quiet story that snuck up on me with how much I ended up immersing myself in the life of a small town. Slow to start, but once I settled into its rhythm and pace I began to appreciate the characters’ distinctive voices, all rendered with great clarity and compassion. In some ways I was reminded of Clegg’s

    not just in structure, but also its exploration of loss, grief and the meaning of community.

    Going back and forth in time and eventually leading us to the mystery of Jess’ disappearance, we meet the members of Sycamore who have gone on with their lives, though this remains a pivotal moment from which none seem to have escaped unscathed. There is a pervasive feeling of lives suspended, not stalled, but not quite as they might have otherwise lived. One character’s words about his marriage provides a glimpse at a greater understanding:

    I feel as if this entire town was holding steady and in that there is such sadness, but also an opportunity for healing and maybe even renewal. This was a beautifully written novel that will make you think about the circuitous journey our lives take which to me is an even bigger mystery than the one that unfolds.

  • Will Byrnes
    Jan 26, 2017

    The girl, missing since 1991, has been found, well, her bones anyway. Her vanishing and the

    The girl, missing since 1991, has been found, well, her bones anyway. Her vanishing and the subsequent impact on friends, family, and the community is the core of Bryn Chancellor’s brilliant first novel,

    . Reminiscent of

    ,

    paints a portrait of a place, looks at the people who make up the town, and leads us through the mystery of what happened when seventeen-year-old Jess Winters went missing. The narrative skips back and forth between the now of 2009 and the then of 1991, when Jess vanished.

    - from her site - photo by Rick Wiley

    Jessica and her mother, Maud, late from the departure of Mister Winters for younger climes, arrive in town looking to begin again, well Maud mostly, as Jess has not really had her first shot at life yet. Laura Drennan, on her own again, also late of a failed union, has taken a gig teaching at the local college.

    But Sycamore is not just a haven for the begin-agains, a Do-Over-stan spa in the desert, drawing the damaged. There are locals, generations deep, coping with their own dreams and disappointments, not necessarily in that order. Iris Overton, owner of Overton Orchards, is coping with the recent passing of

    husband. Stevie Prentiss is helping run the family business instead of taking the art scholarship she so deserved, thanks to the passing of

    father. Adam Newell, son of a famous artist mother, never quite had her talent, and is making a living selling real-estate instead of continuing what everyone had expected would be

    family business, creating works for display at major museums, and coming up first on google searches. Esther Genoways is a caring, inspirational teacher, who finds herself alone again after her bff, a gay man, has moved west to marry a man he’d met on-line. The place could probably support an AA equivalent. I can relate, or at least I could once. “Hi. My name’s Will, and I’m starting over.” “Hi, Will.” If this is beginning to sound like a lonely hearts club, I apologize.

    is so much more than that. I mean, would you take a pass on, say

    , because it’s too sad? Speaking of Tolstoy, he famously wrote, in that very book, “All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.“ There is diversity in how the people of Sycamore face their challenges.

    Really, I mean if you want to read about happy families, dig up your copy of

    . Nothing against things working out, but harder, more challenged personal relationships seem to make the literary fires burn brighter than the softer glow of it’s all gonna be ok. Needless to say it is not all gonna be ok in Sycamore. I mean Winters isn’t coming back. Those

    her bones, aren’t they?

    Bryn Chancellor sees the larger world in the small

    This finds its way into the story in a gripping Humanities class scene.

    The small is in the status of her characters, regular folks, for the most part, and, beautifully, in her depiction of the landscape.

    Chancellor may have fled her hometown, but her characters report on it’s harsh, majestic beauty. There are places like the erstwhile lake that vanished into a sinkhole one day, and seems eager to drag a bit more of the world, living and not, into its maw, (and, given the quote above, it would not seem too much a stretch to see the sinkhole that ate

    Sycamore as symbolic of Chancellor’s own fears of being sucked down into an inescapable dead end.) a baseball field that rings with the pings of diamond dreams, a motel with a looming backdrop that has to be holding at least

    secrets, a mysterious woman who uses rocks as paint and a wheelbarrow for a brush in creating a large piece of installation art, at said erstwhile lake. There are ruts carved in the landscape from when the downpours were too great to be absorbed. There are atmospheric looming outcrops. There is the striking character of the landscape and there is the occasional ragged edge, whether composed of sandstone or flesh. There are heart fires ignited by the slightest touch, as if human skin had been soaked in sulphur and phosphrous. Some folks do get burned. There is the sere landscape with occasional oases where the verdant makes a stand, in the land and the people. There is a world of possibility, if only you dare to dream.

    But have a care when you reach for the world. You never know what might reach back.

    There is much here about home, where it is, seeking it, finding it, making it.

    There was one particular reference in the book that blew me away, a few lines in the humanities class, from a poem by Edna St Vincent Milay. The poignancy is gut-wrenching, suspecting what we suspect, knowing what we know. And not just for it’s significance for a seventeen year old on the cusp of becoming. Maybe even more, it reaches my wrinkled soul, inserts claws and begins to shake.

    . I have included the poem in it’s entirety in Extra Stuff, so you can see for yourself.

    Chancellor takes some chances with form, switching about from first to third person, and things like one chapter that consists of a letter from a father to his daughter, and another that offers one side of a conversation in a shop. I thought these were fun additions. The tale is told from diverse perspectives, each tale filling in pieces of others. It seems clear that the author is very comfortable with the short story format, has even won awards for her SS writing. In the way that Louise Erdrich, in

    , or Jennifer Haigh in

    weave together the lives of a community to tell a whole story, Chancellor has accomplished the same feat here, using the disappearance of a teen-age girl as a central pillar around which to construct the rest.

    Gripes. Parental/spousal abandonment, whether through divorce, death, or greener pastures, certainly permeates this novel, maybe a bit too much. It

    the desert, after all, and one should be careful about dipping that bucket into the same well too many times. Chancellor might have diversified the forms of absence with, say, a prison sentence, or an early onset dementia, a prolonged military service, being held captive by aliens, (I mean, it is the southwest), something. I am not sure all will agree about the effectiveness of the alternate story-telling modes that are employed. I liked them, though.

    The author said, in the story prize interview, when asked what draws her in in a book

    She succeeds in generating that impact here. Have those hankies ready. Don’t finish this book in a public place unless you enjoy having strangers come over to ask if you are ok. This book will pull you in and keep you there until the course has been run, and you can look up once more. This desert landscape tale will leave clearly marked trails on your cheeks where salty water flowed. Chancellor’s first novel is heartfelt and powerful, human and universal. One can only hope that where

    has now been planted, in the years ahead, a mighty forest of such beautiful novels will grow.

    Review Posted - January 27, 2017

    Publication - May 9, 2017

    =============================

    Links to the author’s

    , and

    pages.

    She has sworn off FB for now as an impediment to actual writing.

    are from when she published her story collection

    ——Heavy Feather Review -

    - by Erin Flanagan

    ——From TSP, The official blog of The Story Prize -

    - by Larry Dark

    “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why”

    BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

    What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, 

    I have forgotten, and what arms have lain 

    Under my head till morning; but the rain 

    Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh 

    Upon the glass and listen for reply, 

    And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain 

    For unremembered lads that not again 

    Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. 

    Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, 

    Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, 

    Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: 

    I cannot say what loves have come and gone, 

    I only know that summer sang in me 

    A little while, that in me sings no more.

    OK, pass the tissues. Geez!

  • Brenda
    Jun 01, 2017

    I am a bit surprised I didn't enjoy Sycamore more than I did. Normally I think I would have since I do enjoy quieter character driven suspenseful mysteries that explore the emotional side of the characters like Sycamore, however, I didn't like the storyline.

    The story goes back and forth in time from 1991 when we first meet Jess Winters and her mother and Jess goes missing to 18 years later as the community comes to terms with the discovery of some remains that could be Jess’s. We hear from Jess

    I am a bit surprised I didn't enjoy Sycamore more than I did. Normally I think I would have since I do enjoy quieter character driven suspenseful mysteries that explore the emotional side of the characters like Sycamore, however, I didn't like the storyline.

    The story goes back and forth in time from 1991 when we first meet Jess Winters and her mother and Jess goes missing to 18 years later as the community comes to terms with the discovery of some remains that could be Jess’s. We hear from Jess and from a few different people connected from the community of a small town as Bryn Chancellor explores their loss, grief, regrets, betrayal and forgiveness but for me it just didn't work. I couldn't connect with the characters and the story.

    Even though I found the outcome to the disappearance of Jess satisfying it just wasn’t enough to save my enjoyment for the story. I still recommend reading Sycamore as I think I might be in the minority with my feelings on this one.

    All of Norma’s & my reviews can be found on our Sister Blog:

  • Angela M
    May 06, 2017

    I'm don't usually read mysteries or thrillers. I've just never liked the waiting and wondering and sometimes intense feeling - omg what happened, the suspense- just not for me. They give me knots in my stomach . I took a chance on this book because everything I read about it made me believe there was much more to this story and there is. It's a story about a small town and we come to know a cast of characters, who in some way are connected to 17 year old Jess Winters who has been missing for 18

    I'm don't usually read mysteries or thrillers. I've just never liked the waiting and wondering and sometimes intense feeling - omg what happened, the suspense- just not for me. They give me knots in my stomach . I took a chance on this book because everything I read about it made me believe there was much more to this story and there is. It's a story about a small town and we come to know a cast of characters, who in some way are connected to 17 year old Jess Winters who has been missing for 18 years . I definitely liked the narrative structure, with the points of view moving between the past and present and from a variety of people including Jess, her friends Angie, Paul, Dani, her mother Maud and Laura Drennan, the new person in town who finds human remains while on a walk. Their individual stories are captivating in their own right, not just how they were related to Jess's story. It's well written and I wanted to keep reading in spite of the feeling I had that this just isn't my kind of book . My three star rating is definitely a reflection of that. Others who enjoy this genre will no doubt love this one and I would definitely recommend it to them.

    I received an advanced copy of this book from HarperCollins through Edelweiss.

  • Jen
    Jun 24, 2017

    A girl goes missing- for 18 years. A newcomer comes to town and finds her remains on a hike.

    This is the story of Jess. A teenager who relocated to the town of Sycamore, Arizona. A girl struggling with losing her father to another family and suffering from loneliness, the fitting in and the other woes of teenage angst. As her life is revealed, we realize an illicit love; a poet; rejection; a girl trying to find her place in a new town.

    And what we discover along with her remains, is a town of peo

    A girl goes missing- for 18 years. A newcomer comes to town and finds her remains on a hike.

    This is the story of Jess. A teenager who relocated to the town of Sycamore, Arizona. A girl struggling with losing her father to another family and suffering from loneliness, the fitting in and the other woes of teenage angst. As her life is revealed, we realize an illicit love; a poet; rejection; a girl trying to find her place in a new town.

    And what we discover along with her remains, is a town of people whose lives have gone on hold and can only now move forward with the closure of her body being discovered. Relationships still raw but the healing can now begin.

    More a mystery than a thriller, this one started a little slow but then took off like a slingshot. A diverse cast of characters with their own stories and tragedies and how they fit into Jess's puzzle. Overall, although predictable towards the end, well written and surprisingly captivating. 4⭐️

  • Kristy
    Apr 14, 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,

    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.

    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.

    ~

    ~

    ~

  • Pouting Always
    Jun 12, 2017

    Jess Winter and her mother moved to Sycamore after her father leaves them to begin a new family. Jess has a difficult time fitting in at Sycamore, especially when a new friendship with a girl at school, Dani, ends out of no where. Eventually she makes another friend but things there end badly too leading to a falling out. Jess can't sleep at night and ends up wandering around since they moved to Sycamore. Now that things have gotten even more tense with her, she ends up taking more walks and eve

    Jess Winter and her mother moved to Sycamore after her father leaves them to begin a new family. Jess has a difficult time fitting in at Sycamore, especially when a new friendship with a girl at school, Dani, ends out of no where. Eventually she makes another friend but things there end badly too leading to a falling out. Jess can't sleep at night and ends up wandering around since they moved to Sycamore. Now that things have gotten even more tense with her, she ends up taking more walks and eventually on the night of a bad storm she disappears. Years later when a new person moves into Sycamore and stumbles onto bones on her morning run, Jess's case is brought back up and everyone holds their breath waiting to see if it's her body.

    The beginning of the book was really annoying to read and felt choppy but the more I kept reading the better it got and eventually I really got into the story. I love Jess and I loved her friendship Angie and I was so mad that

    . I was kind of disappointed about how Jess died but I guess it was pretty obvious. I guess it just felt like

    . Anyway I really enjoyed this except the beginning and I could've done without the choppy transitions between POV and past versus present.

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