Book Club: Sycamore

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Author: Bryn Chancellor
ISBN: 9780062677129
RRP: $29.99

Sycamore is the debut novel of Bryn Chancellor set in the small Arizona town of Sycamore.

This book sounded fantastic; a small town story of secrets as the decades old mystery of the missing new girl in town is unraveled. I was interested to discover the answers and happy to feature the book as a June book club title.

Unfortunately I overestimated my reading capabilities this month and ran out of time. I am reading the book at the moment but want to get all my June books featured in June so we can get started on July. I will be back with a review at a later date but for now, here’s a little about the book.

Laura Drennan is a college professor who has recently moved to Sycamore after the breakdown of her marriage. Her method of coping is to walk, she spends hours walking every day because it’s the only way to keep moving. It is during one of these walks that she discovers bones stuck in the wall of a desert ravine.

Being a small town word of the grisly find gets round and as investigators work to identify the remains the town wonders if there will finally be answers for the family and friends of Jess Winters, the high school student that disappeared in 1991.

The present day community wait for answers as the investigation plays out while those who knew Jess flash back to the days before her disappearance – a tumultuous time that has not been forgotten in the small town of Sycamore.

The story opens with Jess and her mother’s arrival in Sycamore so it seems that she hadn’t been in town long before her disappearance.

Sycamore is atmospheric and written from multiple points of view, those who knew Jess get to have their say in a story that explores community, love, loss, forgiveness, remorse and resilience. Sycamore examines the treacherous transition between childhood and adulthood. I think this is going to be more than just your average suspenseful mystery and we are going to learn a lot about an entire town. I can’t wait to sink my teeth in, and I can’t wait to hear what our members think.

Sycamore is published by HarperCollins and is available now through Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.

Thanks to HarperCollins 25 of our Beauty and Lace club members will be reading Sycamore so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments.

20 thoughts on “Book Club: Sycamore

  1. Tha Beautyand lace and HarperCollins for the opportunity to read and review this great book.
    Jess Winters is almost seventeen, her mother Maud and herself have moved to Sycamore from Pheonix to make a new life for themselves. Jess’s father has left them, has a new beautiful daughter and Jess is hurt as he used to call her beautiful girl, she doesn’t want any contact with him.
    Her mother calls her J-bird and does her best to help Jess feel happy in her new surroundings.

    Jess is ‘the new girl’ at her school finding it difficult to make friends and to fit in, she eventually,with the help of her teacher becomes friendly with Dani, secures after school work in a Pecan Orchard and starts to adjust to life in Sycamore until something happens and she finds herself friendless and alone. It’s easy to understand Jess, abandoned by her father, thrust into unfamiliar surroundings, no friends with a mother who spends most of her time sleeping.

    Eighteen years later Professor Laura Drennan the new professional at Sycamore College out walking exploring the area and clearing her head makes a discovery!

    I found this book so interesting, descriptive and full of personalities. I got to know and appreciate all the characters and their personalities.
    it would be an understatement to say I enjoyed it as it was such a good read.
    Make sure you have a box of tissues handy but do read it. I could not put it down!

  2. Sycamore is an exciting debut novel by Bryn Chancellor. It’s about a girl that is missing for eighteen years before a new person to town discovers her. This story is told from multiple perspectives of different characters just like the novel, “The Slap”. This book is ultimately a raw and emotional one where you feel like you get an intimate sense of each of the characters and what makes them tick.

  3. A young girl goes missing- for 18 years. A newcomer comes to town and finds her remains . It seems a town can now move forward and possible lives move forward to go with. Jess Is a teenager who did not finding life easy – she relocated to Sycamore – and was struggling. with handling her new life.

    As the story unravels we see deep into the towns interactions thoughts and many pov’s .

    The novel is a suspenseful mystery more so than a thriller – very slow to build momentum but after that took off and got intriguing. The author has penned a varied and diverse set of characters within this story. Each having there own story to tell, and pasts which all seem to fit into the puzzle.

    The story was kind of predictable but non the less interesting and will keep you reading till the very end.

    The author has written the story well, The story going back and forth from past to present between many pov’s giving us depth into the discovery , past, present and possibly moving forward.
    It seemed once the body was discovered the town kinda came to life waiting for answers .

    An interesting enough read , 3./5 stars.

  4. A teenage girl uprooted by her mother to move to a small country town where they can rebuild their life.
    A teenage girl awkward and unsure moving to a small country town where everyone knows everyone and fitting in isn’t easy.

    A mother not quite sure of her place in the world or how to carry on with life after a divorce.
    A mother who has moved towns to begin a new life doing a job she loves.

    A town where everything is within reach and everyone knows who’s reaching.
    A town where stories begin and end.

    This is a novel with so many surprises.
    It begins with a story of a girl and her mother and the time after the girl went missing.
    There are so many different parts to this story and each one floats into the next one.
    Each chapter is different and each chapter tells a story. It drifts from 1991 to 2016 so make sure you read the chapter name each time although you can tell after a short read which time you are in.
    Inside the main story about Jess and Maud there is a whole lot of other little side stories which I found quite interesting and gave such a whole new depth to the main story.

    Each chapter pulls you and teases you to find out what happened to Jess. Sometimes it feels like you have the answer but no you don’t really.
    This is a story of love, loss, letting go, moving on and new beginnings and also the past. This is a story to fall in love.

    Don’t forget the tissues.

    Thank your Beauty and Lace and Harper Collins for gifting me this book to read.

    1. I have the dates wrong 1991 – 2016 It should be 1991 and ‘2009’. I read the dates off of the print out that came with the book. Didn’t think it was right but when I checked the book after I found I was wrong. Sorry.

  5. Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor is the captivating story of Jess Winters, a young teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood and all life’s possibilities, and how her disappearance and the uncertainty of what happened to her, affected an entire community.

    It is a sad book filled with all the people whose life Jess had somehow touched – from her despairing mother, her disenchanted best friend, her spurned lover(s), school friends and neighbours. These people’s guilt, their secrets, their regrets and lost opportunities, and the limbo, they all live in, wondering if Jess is dead or has run away to a new life somewhere, all form the basis of this book. And it is through their individual stories, flipping back between the year Jess disappeared and the present day that you begin to piece together, who she was involved with, in what ways they were connected, and eventually to find out what did happen to Jess.

    It is compelling reading – a real page turner and although it is definitely full of sorrow and regret, it is ultimately a book about people’s resilience, their ability to forgive and move on and their hope. An interesting read.

  6. Sycamore centres around 17 year-old Jess, who has been missing for the past 18 years.
    Jess had recently moved to Sycamore with her mother after her parents got divorced. Her father re-married and had another daughter, leaving her mother depressed and lonely.
    The mysterious circumstances surrounding Jess’ disappearance have left the community of Sycamore wondering what ever happened to her.
    But one day, a newcomer to the town discovers some bones when she is out walking, and as the residents of Sycamore wait to find out if indeed Jess has been found at last, they each share their stories and reflect on their relationships with her. It took me a little while to get in to the story as I found the first 50-100 pages a little slow going, but it soon started to piece together from that point.
    There are many points of view in this book, and the time line reverts back and forth, which I found a little confusing initially, but it didn’t take long to form a better understanding of the story. I thought that this was a sad story but told very well.
    Thank you to Beauty & Lace and Harper Collins Australia for the opportunity to read and review this book.

  7. this is a book that I felt compelled to go back over and read some sections to see if I had missed a vital clue as to who or what killed Jess.. I made many stabs during the course of reading it, and guess what, I was wrong every single time. This book tells us about what it was, going through the mind of Jess, and how, because she had come with her mother and moved, and felt that none in the town accepted her, found it difficult for herself to settle down to school, and friends. she worked when she could, and in reading her story it was a little difficult to not feel her pain, as an outsider. I enjoyed reading this book, and shall go back to it once more, say after next xmas, when it will probably present itself different to me Thank you for the chance to read, and then to be able to put a review in….

  8. Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor.
    In 1991 a teenage girl, Jess Winters disappears suddenly from Sycamore a small town in Arizona.
    In 2016 Laura Drennan, a teacher and new to the town, stumbles across what turns out to be human bones.
    Initially I found the book hard to follow with the large number of characters. Jess’ Mum, her teacher, her friends and their parents, the family of her part time job, her boyfriend. and others. They are all important and all have a part to play in the story.
    I found it well worth continuing and was soon caught up in the mystery. Do the bones belong to Jess, what happened to her and who was responsible. I made several assumptions which were all wrong!

    The story is told in two time lines. The 1991. story line is told by Jess, her Mum and all the others in her life. All have a secret that involves Jess.

    Then she vanishes.

    The 2016 story line is told by her Mum and all the same people who were in her life when she disappeared. While waiting for the bones to be identified they reflect on their pasts and their unresolved issues and where their lives are now.

    The book shows how a loss, her disappearance, an unsolved mystery impacts on everyone who knew her.
    It is a mystery story. A story of teenagers and difficulties they face, a story of grief, friendship and hope.
    It was an excellent read and I thoroughly recommend the book.
    Thankyou to Harper Collins and Beauty and Lace.

  9. This one is a hard one for me to review!
    Even after a couple of days Im still not sure how i feel about it!
    I definately enjoyed the story on review but at the same time I found it a hard book to read!
    It was a very descriptive book but at times I found it a little too descriptive and this seemed to interupt the flow of the story and lost me at times.
    In the end I am glad I pushed through with the book as it was a good story and I would still recommend as everyone’s opinions are different and hopefully not as confused as mine!
    Thanks Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this debut from Bryn Chancellor. Although this book left me in two minds about it I do look forward to reading future books by her.

  10. Thank you Beauty and Lace and Harper Collins for the opportunity to read and review Bryn Chancellor’s debut novel Sycamore. To say I loved this book would be an understatement.

    Maud and Jess Winter, her 16 year old daughter, move to Sycamore in January 1991 after Jess’ parents divorce. Jess is struggling with the image of her father, his new blond wife and new baby girl, beautiful girl, something he had once called her. When younger she had desperately wanted a baby sister, instead what she had got was a replacement for her.

    Like many teenagers Jess is full of angst, at 5 foot 10 she also stands out, moving to a small town, starting a new school trying to fit is never easy, Jess is carrying a lot of emotional baggage which makes it even harder.

    Jess often seeks the peace of the night, slipping out while her mother sleeps, her notebook clutched to her chest. A sentence in the first paragraph in the book “This wasn’t the first time to slip out the door late at night, and it wouldn’t be her last. (There would be a last time, but not tonight).” portends the future.

    In June 2009 Professor Laura Drennan moves to Sycamore after separating from her husband of 11 years to take the only tenure job available, teaching History and Latin American studies at the Sycamore college. One day while walking she discovers what appears to be a human bone protruding from a wall of stones down by the lake.

    When Detective Gil Alvarez turns up in Maud’s driveway she knows, this is the news she has been waiting to receive for the last 18 years since Jess disappeared that night. Forensics still need to determine if it is Jess and what happened but Maud has always known that Jess did not run away and is sure that this is where her body lays.

    Chancellor flips between 1991 and 2009 as she builds the story of Jess and what happened that fateful night. In doing so she develops a number of important characters from Jess’ school days to the present, gently yet accurately exploring the issues of teenager-hood, including sex and sexuality, the drama caused by a friend’s father’s mid life crisis and the effect on family and friends and the impact on a town and a mother of not knowing what happened to cause Jess to disappear.

    I found this to be a powerful and evocative book that I found hard to put down and would highly recommend it (although you may want a box of tissues nearby later in the story). I give it 5 stars.

  11. Stunning! what can I say that other reviewers haven’t already said

    After coming to grips of the storyline flipping from one timezone to another this story really takes on a life of it’s own so I found a quiet corner & found myself in the story as the characters seemed so real & my imagination did the rest
    Such a strong story with remembrances of my teenage years when we all felt unsure & unloved
    Warning tissues will be required!

    I highly recommend this book & thank Beauty & Lace for the opportunity
    To Bryn Chancellor congratulations on your debut book & hope to read many more

  12. Thankyou Beauty and Lace, Harper Collins and Bryn Chancellor for the opportunity to read “Sycamore “. When I first unwrapped my copy of this book I was taken by the feel and design of the cover , it was a. nice book to hold.
    I found the story a little hard to get into and sometimes felt I needed to go back and reread a section just to get things straight. Once getting inside the lives of the characters living in Sycamore I was turning pages quickly trying to get into their thoughts and secrets.
    Jess, I felt, was a troubled girl being up rooted from her home after her father found a new wife and started a new family which Jess struggled with throughout her short life.
    Jess after having landed with her now single mother into a new town she needed desperately to have a friend of her own,someone who cared for her.
    The writer goes into each of the characters that crisscross Jess’s live as we get to know them .
    The storyline travels from 1991 when Jess first comes to Sycamore to 2002 when a newcomer to the town finds human bones in a creek bed.
    The story goes on to tell that one night in 1991 Jess disappears leaving the reader to wonder if the bones found are Jess’s or did she just leave?
    It is a complicated story and one that I find hard to review, but every page I turned I had a different reason in my head of why Jess disappeared, none of them being the correct answer which the reader does not find out till the last few pages of the book.
    Bryn Chancellor has written an entertaining and thought provocting debut novel and I will definitely look for more of her work.

  13. Thank you for the opportunity to read “Sycamore”. Like some of the others I found it a little hard to get into the story at first. It jumps not only between time zones but also the characters in the story. The synopsis was so promising that I did not give up and was rewarded with quite the amazing tale.
    Maud and Jessie move to Sycamore when things turn bad when with Maud’s husband (making a new family of his own). Jess lives a lot inside her head and on the pages of her journals, especially being the “new kid” in town. Finally making friends and discovering a new place in the town until she makes a bad decision.
    Heading into the future and Laura moves to town after a marriage breakdown. Finding herself in a similar way to Jess , searching the town through walks and runs. Little did she expect to find Jess, who had gone missing years before.
    Persist with this book, the story is a warming and heartbreaking one that just draws you in as long as you can get past the first pages. You learn so much about all the characters, just watch that timeline jump.

    Thanks again

  14. Thank you, Beauty & Lace and Harper Collins, for the opportunity to read and review Bryn Chancellor’s novel, Sycamore.
    Wow….this was quite a read and I thoroughly enjoyed the story from the very first page, until the very last. Bryn’s style of writing and her way of describing the environment and scenery, made reading Sycamore easy for me. Everything flowed and made sense, even when the storyline would revert to 1991 again, the transition was flawless and carried me along.
    Sycamore is set in an arid, Arizona town, called Sycamore. It’s a small town where everyone knows everyone. We begin the story when a new residents Jess Winters and her Mum, Maude make a move from Pheonix to the desert town of Sycamore in 1991. Jess is a loner and a bit of a rebel, dealing with the still raw separation of her parents and the fact that her Dad has created for himself, a brand new family of his own. Jess has a habit of running and walking around late at night when most everything and everyone is fast asleep. This is the World she feels most comfortable in. Jess has trouble fitting in and it takes a while to meet her best friend Dani, who she went to school with. Dani’s parents are also having their own troubles in their marriage and Adam, the Dad, falls in love with Jess the first time he lays eye on her. This part of the story gave me the creeps a little but the way Bryn described Adam and his in-depth feelings, the love was shown to be pure and true from his side, there was nothing creepy about it. Jess and Adam dance around each other for a month or so, where nothing more than a kiss is ever explored. Dani has a boyfriend, Paul, and the three kids become the best of friends, until one night during a chance tryst at a local Orchard where Adam and Jess meet up, and Paul witnesses his girlfriend’s Dad displaying his affections for Jess.
    A few nights later, during Thanksgiving Dinner, where all characters are seated, Jess, Maude, Dani, Paul, Adam and Dani’s Mum, Rachel, Paul decides he has held on to his secret long enough and confronts the Dad in front of everyone. As expected, all hell breaks loose.
    Jess’s World has changed once again. It was during the middle of this story where I encountered a number of events that could have been the demise of Jess Winters but none ended in a fatal fashion, leaving me still wondering.
    Then one night Jess leaves her home, never to return. All her Mum knows, is that she went out for a walk. Leaving a note saying she would return around 6.30pm. From the following morning, a police search ensued and Jess was classed a ‘Missing Person’. As far as most of Sycamore’s inhabitants knew, Jess had disappeared, most likely run away. Then Jess’s bones are found, 18 years later by a walker and Bryn takes us through the history of what happened.
    I loved reading the story from a whole cast of different character’s perceptions, I found this made the mystery even more thrilling and kept me guessing, I had a few different scenarios drifting in and out of my thoughts on Jess’s cause of death. And was happy to finally discover the reason why.
    I will be extremely likely to pick up another of Bryn Chancellor’s books after reading this one. I love the way she writes, I understand everything, it flows, it’s natural.

  15. Initially I found it hard to read this book as it jumped from character to character. However, I was glad I persevered as by the end I was unable to put it down and guessing and reguessing Jess’s fate
    This story jumps from 18 years ago to the present date. At times it is told by Jess (the main character). At times it is told by others in, and impacted by her life
    This is basically the story of a teenage girl Jess trying to fit in. Jess goes missing and 18 years later, bones thought to be hers are found
    At times, it is difficult to read. More often though, it is compelling to read. A very emotive debut novel by Bryn Chancellor

  16. Sycamore is a slow burn, it creeps up on you an envelopes you like a warm hug.

    SomSycamoree books are ‘can’t put down’, but I’d say is more ‘can’t let go’.

    The language was quite poetic, sometimes intense and very thought provoking.

    The characters were deep and varied and kept you gessing.

    Sycamore is so called because it’s set in the small town of Sycamore, Arizona. It’s a place as routine as clockwork, as comfortable as a knitted jumper.

    Maud the local post mistress lost her teenage daughter over 18 years ago. Nobody knows what happened to the vivacious Jess, she ainply disappeared….

    Until ‘new in town’ college professor Laura finds some bones stuck in a ravine. Everyone thinks the worst, assuming the bones will belong to Jess.

    At times I found Sycamore a little heavy, Maud for instance was quite a depressing character. I understood her intensity, the cloud of the missing never goes away.

    But I kept turning the pages, kept peeking through the blinds, kept waiting to see what woukd happen next.

    If you want light, fluffy poolside reading, grab a magazine.

    If you want somewhat intense, drama filled meaty characters and a slow burning tapestry of a story, try Sycamore. You won’t be disappointed.

  17. Sycamore was a fabulous book. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the time and characters of the story between chapters and the steady stream of information that was fed to me throughout the novel. Reading about a girl gone missing and a body being found gave me resolution that it belonged to Jess and that I would find myself filling in the pieces of the puzzle as the story unravelled.
    I enjoyed learning about the mundane lives of many of Sycamores residents and found it easy to relate to much of their lives. Mrs G. provided a fabulous backdrop as both a support person as the class teacher to Jess, Dani, Beto and Paul but also a deep individual connection as a human being.
    I had a sense of constant dread throughout the book as I stuck with the resolution that the bones were Jess’ and that her demise may have been a result of foul play. I continued to believe this until the very end of the story when the reality of those last events came to light.
    Poor Angie proved a great character and she endured so much throughout the story. She held tight to herself and involved herself in Jess’ life at a crucial time. Unfortunately, they fell out after the hand-on-leg incident but she proved to be a continually interesting and very important character to the novel until the bitter end. She provided solace and drive and emitted an attitude that I connected with.
    Stevie, Tom, Rose, Warren, Gil, Iris and Beto all provide interesting connections to each other and the plot of the story. They provide pivotal points in the plot line that you can see a cross roads develop from and know that a key event is near but you cannot yell out to them to stop before they hit the road block head on.
    So much of Sycamores history and Jessica’s tragic undoing all happens on a tragic path created by Adam and his sense of lost youth, unloving childhood and strained life and marriage. Meeting through Dani as his frustrated and lonesome father he builds a friendship as a friend’s father and then the most lightest of touches draws them down the rabbit hole of deception and consequence.
    Rejection from friends, family and the community creates the catastrophe that is the final sequence of events that leave to Jess ending up a pile of bones exposed from the dry, cracked dirt. They create a love that lasts for eighteen years after Jess is lost and Adam is left with a gaping hole in his life. Jess rejects his offer to run away with him and leaves him alone in a cabin and wondering just like everyone else.
    The exposure and identification of Jessica’s bones ends the hard way but the community rally’s to create a memorial worthy of a girl stripped of her future.

  18. I loved Bryn Chancellor’s novel Sycamore. Initially it took a little to get a handle on the different characters and times, but then I found the story compelling and the depiction of life in small town America really wonderful. The multiple narrators allow us access to different viewpoints and to details never revealed to anyone else, and I thought the characters were skilfully constructed. This story depicts both adolescents working out who they are and their place in the world, as well as the lasting impacts of pivotal events.

    While far from a feel-good story, this page-turner is far more rewarding to read.

    Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Harper Collins for the opportunity to experience this fabulous book.

  19. I found this story to be about closure. In 1991 there were a series of events ending in a scandal and the disappearance of a young girl in a small, rural town. There are a number of characters both directly involved and more peripheral to those events. In 2016 a stranger to the town finds bones in the side of a wash/river bed. Immediately it is assumed they belong to the missing girl, Jess and memories surface with all of these characters. Those people seem to have become stuck in the life they had in 1991 without moving on. The finding of the bones encourages their memories to play out about that period in their, and Jess’s life. In that journey they all seem to find resolution to problems and become able to move on after all these years. There is also the mystery aspect to the story…are they the bones of Jess Winters? How did she die? Was it an accident, or foul play? If so, by whom?
    I found the mystery had me examining the characters as they were introduced, trying to assess which of them had the will and means to kill Jess, then I would swing to another theory…maybe she had run off. Right to the last chapter my ‘villains’ versus ‘runaway’ theories kept changing and also it isn’t until the very end that we discover whether the bones actually belong to Jess. Each character’s story was fascinating, both in 1991 and through to 2016 and their eventual closure and moving on from, either of a tragic time in their lives or more simply the stagnation of their lives.
    Maybe not a ‘normal’ read but I found it intriguing and weeks later I still think about parts of it. I would recommend it as an interesting, thought provoking story.

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