Author: Bryn Chancellor
Sycamore was a June read that I didn’t quite get finished and it became my first July read but with everything going on the review got left by the wayside. We are now two weeks from me finishing the book and I am not going to bed until the review is written.
This is the debut novel of Bryn Chancellor, though she has won awards for her story collection. Set in small town Arizona we see two timelines and two main characters write the story of Sycamore.
In 1991 Jess Winters moves from Phoenix to Sycamore with her mother after the divorce, as her father starts a new life with his new family. She’s not thrilled to be starting over in a small town and often spends her nights wandering the silent streets with her notebook.
Eighteen years later Professor Laura Drennan moves to the small town of Sycamore in the wake of her own divorce; she, too, is rebuilding her life and feeling a little untethered. Laura walks for hours every day as a means to keep moving, to keep going forward, because it’s something that she can do without thinking; she just needs to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The narrative switches between 1991 and 2009 as the suspense builds and we uncover the truth. Jess Winters disappeared one night in 1991 and no-one knows what happened, there is speculation but nothing substantial. We learn a little about her disappearance as we get to know the current residents of Sycamore because most of them have been in town that long.
Laura Drennan uncovers a bone while she is out walking one August afternoon, unwittingly opening old wounds, and as investigators work on identifying the remains the town wonders if there will finally be answers to the cold case disappearance of Jess Winters.
The 1991 timeline takes us from the Winters’ arrival in town up to Jess’s disappearance; we get to know Jess, her friends and her new town. She was only in town a relatively short time before her disappearance yet it was long enough to have cemented her place in the memory of the townspeople.
Chancellor has woven an intricate tale that kept me wondering at a few different things. Behaviours and events that made me wonder about the whole situation, never quite about the relevance of things. The intrigue built throughout the story to a satisfying climax and well rounded ending.
The discovery of the remains opens the memory vaults of residents around town to take us back to 1991 from different character perspectives as well as going back to chapters from Jess’s perspective. Events of the past slowly unfold until we reach the disappearance and the more we learn the less certain we are about what may have happened.
Sycamore is still home to many of the 1991 residents, or home again, and so we see where they are now and what the years in between have been like for them. This is where we get to know the characters, intimately and thoroughly.
One of my favourite things about this read is exploring the effect Jess’s disappearance and the events directly preceding it had on each of the characters.
Love, loss, identity, resilience and the workings of a small town are all explored in this atmospheric tale that will have you hooked. Late adolescence is a tumultuous time as we try to navigate the path from childhood to adulthood and when that is coupled with family upheaval and a big move it creates even more turmoil, and often a sense of disconnect.
Sycamore is intricate and engaging, a must read novel that kept me guessing.