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Sycamore
Cover of Sycamore
Sycamore
A Novel
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"In this masterful performance, Bryn Chancellor explores the loss around which an entire community has calcified with humanity and wisdom. Chancellor digs deep in these pages, unearthing broken hearts,...
"In this masterful performance, Bryn Chancellor explores the loss around which an entire community has calcified with humanity and wisdom. Chancellor digs deep in these pages, unearthing broken hearts,...
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Description-

  • "In this masterful performance, Bryn Chancellor explores the loss around which an entire community has calcified with humanity and wisdom. Chancellor digs deep in these pages, unearthing broken hearts, secrets, betrayals, passion and—most impressively—grace. What a joy to find a book that is both propulsive and perfectly composed."—Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest

    An award-winning writer makes her debut with this mesmerizing must-listen in the spirit of Everything I Never Told You and Olive Kitteridge.

    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 unsolved mystery that has soaked into the porous rock of the town and haunted it ever since. In the days it takes the authorities to make an identification, the residents rekindle stories, rumors, and recollections both painful and poignant as they revisit Jess's troubled history. In resurrecting the past, the people of Sycamore will find clarity, unexpected possibility, and a way forward for their lives.

    Skillfully interweaving multiple points of view, Bryn Chancellor knowingly maps the bloodlines of a community and the indelible characters at its heart—most notably Jess Winters, a thoughtful, promising adolescent poised on the threshold of adulthood. Evocative and atmospheric, Sycamore is a coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a moving exploration of the elemental forces that drive human nature—desire, loneliness, grief, love, forgiveness, and hope—as witnessed through the inhabitants of one small Arizona town.

About the Author-

  • Bryn Chancellor's story collection When Are You Coming Home? (University of Nebraska Press) won a Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and her short fiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Phoebe, and elsewhere. Other honors include the Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award in fiction, and literary fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and the North Carolina Arts Council. She teaches at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 20, 2017
    In this riveting first novel, 17-year-old Jess Winters, a recent transplant to Sycamore, Ariz., disappears one night in 1991, leaving behind a jagged hole in the community. Eighteen years later, Laura Drennan, a new professor at Sycamore College, goes hiking and accidentally discovers human bones in a dry streambed near the campus. Word quickly spreads, and the entire town wonders if Jess's remains have been discovered. As speculation runs high, we meet the former friends, classmates, neighbors, and teachers who continue to be haunted by Jess's absence. They include her still-grieving mother, Maud Winters; Angie Juarez, a high school friend who had an unrequited crush on Jess; Paul Overton, a classmate who can't forget his behavior at her last Thanksgiving dinner; Dani Newell, the best friend who felt betrayed by her; and Stevie Prentiss, an outcast with a secret. There are also flashbacks, which ultimately reveal what happened to Jess on that fatal night. This is a movingly written, multivoiced novel examining how one tragic circumstance can sow doubt about fundamental things; as one character succinctly asks, "Do we really know anyone?" The author ends her novel with a transporting vision of community, connection, and forgiveness. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner.

  • AudioFile Magazine Laura Brennan, newly arrived in the town of Sycamore, Arizona, is out for a run when she discovers what appear to be human bones embedded in an arroyo. Could they be the remains of 17-year-old Jess Winters, herself a new resident when she disappeared 18 years earlier? A talented cast of narrators pulls the listener into this small community as its residents uncover the connections between the past and the present. Slowly, inexorably, they peel back the layers to reveal the characters' secrets--and how Jess's disappearance has impacted all their lives. The steadily building tension keeps the listener riveted. N.E.M. � AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine
  • Library Journal

    Starred review from April 15, 2017

    Chancellor's absorbing first novel begins quietly, quickly gains momentum, and ends explosively. Sixteen-year-old Jess Winters and her mother, Maud, arrive in the small desert town of Sycamore, AZ, in early 1991. Jess is lonely, with few school friends. She writes all her thoughts in a journal during her frequent walks into the desert night. Jess and Maud are close, but Jess is also fiercely independent. When she secretly agrees to a rendezvous with her friend Dani's father, Adam, the fallout during a Thanksgiving dinner among a gathering of friends ripples through the entire town. Jess swears that nothing happened, but she needs to get out into the desert and think. One dark rainy night, a few days before Christmas, she vanishes. The scandalous rumor and Jess's sudden disappearance ruin lives, and everyone resorts to finger pointing. Emotions simmer for the next 18 years, until a jogger discovers human remains in a wash near a trail. Shifting deftly between 1991 and 2009, Chancellor spins multiple threads of Jess's story as it affects everyone, especially Maud. VERDICT This gripping debut is a must for readers of literary fiction with an over-the-top final twist. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]--Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    November 1, 2017

    When a newcomer discovers human bones in a dry wash in Sycamore, AZ, members of the small college town suspect that they belong to Jess, a 17-year-old who vanished 18 years earlier. Debut novelist Chancellor expertly moves between this present-day discovery and the story of Jess's brief life in Sycamore. As a new arrival at 15, Jess had a hard time making friends. Through flashbacks, readers learn about her, her mother, her close friends, and her lover. Since it's clear up front that Jess vanished, her interactions are all the more meaningful. This moving story of teen problems and adult longing crackles with tension. Believable characters and a twist ending add appeal. VERDICT For fans of mystery and suspense.-Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library

    Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    March 1, 2017
    The disappearance of a teenage girl casts a pall over a small Arizona town in this debut novel.Jess Winters, tall and lovely and with a penchant for poetry, turns 17 shortly after moving from Phoenix to Sycamore with her mother, Maud. Her parents' marriage dissolved when her father took up with a younger woman--faithless men are a recurring motif here--and Jess is having a hard time adjusting to her changed circumstances. To let off steam, she goes on late-night solo walks around town. Eventually, a bright local girl named Dani Newell befriends her, but when Dani's father, Adam, takes a keen interest in Jess, disaster ensues. The story flips back and forth in time from 1991, when Jess goes missing, to 2009, when a newcomer to town--also fleeing a wayward husband--makes a discovery that may or may not explain what happened to Jess. As the narrative unfolds, we learn the back stories of different townspeople, which also shed light on Jess' fate. Though the author builds a fair amount of whodunit suspense, she clearly means for this to be a serious novel about loss, grieving, and forgiveness. Unfortunately, her writing--effortful and straining too hard for effect--often gets in the way: "Moments fractured into shards of color and smell and sound she strung together like a sad, crooked garland." It also leaves little to the imagination: "Jess Winters was their metaphor: loss, secrets, guilt, failure, embedded in one shining, curly-haired girl." And while Jess is a mostly sympathetic, well-drawn character, Sycamore's other denizens are not as vividly portrayed. Though the author comes up with a deft, plausible resolution to her complicated narrative, it's not enough to save this overwritten effort.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    April 15, 2017
    While Sycamore, Arizona, newcomer Laura Drennan is walking one day, getting to know the small college town and blowing off steam from her recent divorce, she discovers a human bone poking from the wall of a dry wash, the site of a former lake. Immediately, the wide cast of characters Chancellor voices all land on the same explanation: Jess Winters, the teenager who disappeared 20 years ago in 1991, though they take different routes to get there. Jess' mom, Maud, still delivers mail in Sycamore (or Syc-to-my-stomach, as Jess called it) and still thinks Jess wouldn't have run away, while many others who knew her have moved on, or not, while harboring varying degrees of guilt. Interspersed in Chancellor's meaty, suspenseful debut is Jess' story of the troubling year (itself preceded by another difficult year) leading up to her disappearance. The author handles this back-and-forth movement well, creating subtle connections among the fleshed-out Sycamore residents that readers will enjoy recognizing while waiting with them to discover the truth about the long-concealed skeleton.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

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