Book Review: Sycamore

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Author: Bryn Chancellor
ISBN: 9780062677129
RRP: $29.99

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.

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

Thanks to Harper Collins 25 of our Beauty and Lace Club Members will be reading Sycamore and you can see what our readers thought here: Book Club – Sycamore

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Sycamore

  1. Hmmmm! This was a book that I wasn’t sure I even liked until the end. The storyline definitely wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I got confused about the different characters and who was speaking when. By the end though, when I had finished the book and could see all that had happened I finally understood and decided that I really liked it! ‘Sycamore’ is a book that was actually written very cleverly, providing information from many different view points both before and after the disappearance of Jess. This is a story that I will definitely read again and with my knowledge about it, I’m sure I’ll find it easier and more enjoyable to read during the story, not just at the end. This is the debut novel for the author and I’ll be keeping my eye out for what she does next. Thank you Beauty and Lace for another good review >:o)

  2. I still don’t know how I feel about this story.honestly. I found it interesting and sad however I struggled to connect on a deeper level with the characters and storyline. There were parts I enjoyed yet was wanting some more action., faster pace… It was drawn out and at times I found myself skipping sentences and jumping through it.. hmmm not sure I really did enjoy this sad tale.

  3. Sycamore is not a book you can rush through, you need to understand who it is that’s talking to you it’s a sad story that takes you through many people’s perspectives and how events impacted them. But once you get into it ,it will keep you guessing.
    It’s a wonderful book and I really enjoyed reading it.

  4. I found the start of this book a little harder to get into than most but once I got into the different characters lives of ups and downs I REALLY found myself immersed.
    Loved that it made some of my memories come alive with some of the characters thoughts as it made this book real and believable.
    As sad and lonely as some of them felt, I liked them even more and found myself locked into the characters more than wanting to know what really happened to Jess.
    It was good how we could know each person when they were younger and then when they were older.
    Wow what a fantastic descriptive writer Bryn Chancellor is!!! If this is her debut book we have a hell of a lot to look forward to.
    You can almost guarantee Harper and Collins publish books from talented writers.
    Thanks for introducing me to something wonderful.
    Who needs a deserted island to run away to when you can get taken away in a great book. 🙂

  5. Took me a while to get into the book, I actually re started twice lol. But once I got there I was intrigued. It reminded me that life is messy, relationships are complicated, feelings are unpredictable and life is short. All in all not a bad read

  6. 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.

  7. Sorry for the late review on this book, I will be totally honest I had to re read the book,
    I found Sycamore quite a sad book,
    Sycamore is the name of a small town where the main character in the book Jess and her mother move too,
    The story and characters go between 1991 – 2009 this sometimes confused me
    The ending was not a surprise to me
    After reading this book twice I still don’t know if I enjoyed it

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