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Sycamore

Cover of Sycamore

Sycamore

"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 page-turner 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.

"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 page-turner 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.

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About the Author-
  • Bryn Chancellor's story collection When Are You Coming Home? won the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and her short fiction has appeared in a range of publications, including Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, and Phoebe. She was also awarded the 2014 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for fiction, and literary fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She has an MFA in fiction from Vanderbilt University and 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.

  • 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.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2016
    When a new resident of Sycamore, AZ, discovers what look to be human remains in a bone-dry ravine, townsfolk assume they belong to a troubled teenager named Jess Winters who disappeared 18 years ago. Chancellor won the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize for her story collection When Are You Coming Home? With a 75,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal (starred review) "Chancellor's absorbing first novel begins quietly, quickly gains momentum, and ends explosively. . . . This gripping debut is a must for readers of literary fiction."
  • Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest "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."
  • Caroline Leavitt "What's more wonderful than a novel that keeps you up at night and haunts you through the day? That describes Bryn Chancellor's Sycamore, about the discovery of a body that might belong to a vanished teenaged girl, a community pulling together and apart, and secrets."
  • Oprah magazine, “O’s Top 20 Books to Read This Summer” "This hypnotic debut probes the disappearance of 17-year-old Jess . . . . Chancellor shifts nimbly between past and present and from character to character, cutting away the net of riddles that ensnares Sycamore's residents."
  • Glamour, “New Books by Women You’re Guaranteed to Love This Summer” "A mystery, a coming-of-age story, and an ensemble drama are woven together in this tale of love, loss, grief...and human remains found deep in the desert."
  • Bustle, “The 15 Best Fiction Books of May” Bustle, “The 15 Best Fiction Books of May” "This masterfully written suspense will draw you in immediately."
  • RT Book Reviews "[An] emotional and addicting debut. . . . [an] unforgettable page‐turner. Four and a half stars."
  • St. Louis Post- Dispatch "Compelling. . . . Chancellor expertly takes us through Jess' days as she makes her way in the vicious social circles of high school, makes and loses a first friend and then makes a longer-lived connection with a girl named Dani. . . . Chancellor takes readers beyond a standard whodunit and provides a more compelling take on what the experience does to the town."
  • Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow "Bryn Chancellor explores the complexities of a small-town girlhood with insight and compassion. A page-turner and a heart-breaker, Sycamore marks the arrival of a shining new voice."
  • Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water and Island of Bones Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water and Island of Bones "Bryn Chancellor's Sycamore instantly reminded me of Tana French's thrillers: a small, intertwined community, a long-ago crime, the tension and intrigue that won't stop rippling....Chancellor writes gorgeously, and her story is riveting and real. I love it."
  • Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life "Bryn Chancellor's compelling debut novel, Sycamore, weaves a suspenseful web around a small town in the years following a disappearance. With astute emotional and psychological observations, Chancellor successfully shows the power of the unknown as various individuals explore the many what ifs and imaginings of what really happened."
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