Friday, October 23, 2020

Fiction Review: Sycamore

One of my audiobooks for the #RIPXV Challenge this season was Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor, a novel I'd been wanting to read/listen to for a while. It doesn't fall neatly into any typical fiction category. There is a mystery at the heart of it, but the novel is mainly focused on the impact of that mystery on the residents of a small town.

Sixteen-year-old Jess wasn't thrilled when she and her mother, Maud, moved from Phoenix to the small college town of Sycamore in northern Arizona in 1991. She got into the habit of slipping out of the house late at night and walking or running around the small community, amazed by the dark and the quiet so far from the city. Later that year, Jess disappeared on one of those late-night forays and was never found. About twenty years later, Laura is another newcomer to Sycamore in the habit of walking every day, despite the desert heat. One day, while walking along a dry lake bed outside of town, Laura discovers what appear to be human remains. While the police investigate and the town waits for lab results to identify the bones, everyone assumes that it must be Jess, who disappeared without a trace on that long-ago night. Chapters alternate from one town resident to another in both the present and the past, gradually revealing unexpected connections and filling in the events prior to Jess' disappearance. For instance, Maud is Laura's postal carrier and still mourns her daughter's loss. Other perspectives include Jess' best friend, her employer, and others in town whose connection to Jess is slowly exposed, like a web of nearly invisible thread. Secrets, lies, romance, and betrayals come to light with each character's story, finally leading to the answer of what happened to Jess.

One reviewer compared Sycamore to Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth's Strout's novel of interconnected short stories all taking place in a small town. It does have that feel to it, only with a mystery and a growing sense of tension and dread at the center of it. It's not a fast-paced thriller but a slow burn, as the reader gradually gets to know the people of the town and how they were each affected by Jess' life and her death. A complex web of secrets and relationships underlies this seemingly peaceful little town, and the author only slowly reveals those connections. With multiple narrators, the audiobook was riveting (if perhaps a bit confusing at the beginning as each new character was introduced). I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this compelling, unique character study of a community hiding its secrets and how one person affects the lives of so many others.

352 pages, Harper Perennial

Harper Audio

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here  (Laura's first chapter) and/or download it from Audible.


You can purchase Sycamore from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

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Or you can order Sycamore from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I like the idea of a slow burn mystery rather than a fast-paced thriller right now.

    1. It was definitely unique - and immersive!