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June 19, 2017



by Bryn Chancellor

Sycamore is the story of Jess Winters, a young girl, who went missing in 1991.  It is also the story of how her life intertwined with the residents of the town and how her disappearance affected the residents of Sycamore, both individually and as a community.  The novel fluctuates in time between the events that occurred in 1991, between the time Jess and her mother moved to Sycamore and her disappearance, and the time of the discovery of what may be her remains, 18 years later.  Throughout the novel, the mystery of what happened to Jess Winters permeates the story; however, this book provides a great analysis of all the characters as we slowly come to understand how each person relates to Jess, both in the past and today.

Sycamore is also a story of survival.  As in real life, the characters all have losses and obstacles to overcome.  We see how they are challenged, and sometimes defeated, however; mostly they struggle and ultimately move forward despite their heartbreak.  The story opens in January 1991 when Jess, and her mother Maude, move to Sycamore from Phoenix after Jess’s father has left her mother for another woman and moved to California.  Jess and her mother struggle with this betrayal and Jess feels abandoned and alone.  The kids at school taunt her and she gets through it by writing poetry and taking long solitary walks, often in the middle of the night.  She eventually settles in and makes a few close friends.  However, things are still not easy for Jess and she becomes involved in an unhealthy relationship.  Because the novel fluctuates between the present and the past, as the story slowly unfurls we see the juxtaposition of events; and the terrible impact her disappearance has had on all involved.  Although Jess and her disappearance are the apex of the novel, the real story comes from her family, friends, and residents of Sycamore and the impact this has had on their lives.

Sycamore is a wonderfully crafted novel.  After I finished Sycamore, I was struck with the symmetry of the novel as a whole.  Chancellor perfectly balanced the story and constructed a plot, as well as characters, that kept you reading and engaged, from beginning to end.

Review By:  Heidi Herald