Sycamore: A Novel

“Hypnotic debut”— O: The Oprah Magazine

“Riveting … a movingly written, multivoiced novel examining how one tragic circumstance can sow doubt about fundamental things. … a transporting vision of community, connection, and forgiveness.”
Publishers Weekly starred review and Pick of the Week

“Masterful  … 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

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Available May 9, 2017, from Harper (ISBN: 9780062661098)

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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.

Critical Praise

“Rich, strange, erotic. Set in Arizona’s craggy red-rock country, this hypnotic debut … shifts nimbly between past and present and from character to character, cutting away the net of riddles that ensnares Sycamore’s residents.” (O: The Oprah Magazine, “Top 20 Books to Read 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.” (Glamour, “New Books by Women You’re Guaranteed to Love This Summer”)

“This masterfully written suspense will draw you in immediately.” (Bustle, “The 15 Best Fiction Books of May”)

“This quietly affecting novel builds up a picture of an ordinary teen, in an ordinary town, and how her disappearance and the very town itself have become inextricably bound in ways that speak to our ability to navigate love, betrayal, deception, desire, and secrets. … The dual timelines are skillfully used to keep the suspense building with regard to solving the mystery of her disappearance but also to gather together the threads of a theme running throughout the novel: how much time we are given, and how we use it, and how even small actions can have effects that ripple across the years. A bittersweet exploration of the different ways a heart can break and heal.” (The Amazon Book Review, Amazon Best Book of May 2017)

“Chancellor’s absorbing first novel begins quietly, quickly gains momentum, and ends explosively. … This gripping debut is a must for readers of literary fiction with an over-the-top final twist.” (Library Journal starred review)

“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.” (Booklist)

“Chancellor … is a patient and skillful scribe. She deftly dissects the lives of more than a dozen characters who come into contact with Jess during the 12 months she lives in Sycamore. With a few opening words in each chapter, we’re immersed in their worlds and the hefty burdens of their years-long emotional struggle … Chancellor creates suspense and tension in quiet, insular moments—family members brooding at the dinner table, lustful gazes, the rolled eyes of hormonal teenagers in the hallways of the local high school.” (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

“The novel glimmers with its author’s keen understanding of lives at all ages and stages. Which she achieves with deft characterization; few of her creations can be called minor, and all are drawn with care and compassion. At once haunting and hopeful, Sycamore displays Chancellor’s talent across all of fiction’s realms and showcases her generosity of spirit. . . . Powerful and moving.” (The Richmond Times-Dispatch)

“Riveting. . . . a book you’ll want to read in one sitting. . . Chancellor’s narrative is brilliant, shifting back and forward in time as a variety of characters’ reveal their backstories, their relationship with Jess and what they recall about the night she disappeared. … Sycamore keeps you on the edge of your seat from first page to last.” (The Missourian)

“It’s the girl’s disappearance that makes up the heart of the story. Everyone in the small town knows Jess’ name, and Chancellor takes time in threading the relationships between the teen and newfound friends, acquaintances and even peripheral characters who have something to say about the town and the times. … Chancellor takes readers beyond a standard whodunit and provides a more compelling take on what the experience does to the town.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“In a little town, a town some would rather not even be in, the memories, the ghost of an event that happened years before haunts many of the residents who had a relationship with the missing girl, Jess who is the absent star of this novel. … People ripple and Jess’ history and her personality ripple through the town and through the lives and shaped personalities of the people with whom she came in contact in her short relationship with them. Sycamore is scary and thought provoking and forces the reader to place himself in a hypothetical similar position. “What would I do?” resonates throughout the book, and that’s what makes it such a powerful read.” (The Avid Reader Show)

“[An] emotional and addicting debut. . . . [an] unforgettable page‐turner. Four and a half stars.” (RT Book Reviews)

“Beautifully structured, compellingly plotted and its multi-character cast captures the yin and yang of human behavior. It is a sometimes painful saga that addresses the joys of love, the pain of betrayal and the devastation of life-altering sorrows that never fully abate.” (Inside Jersey Magazine)

“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.” (Caroline Leavitt, author of Cruel Beautiful World)

“Rendered with razor sharp clarity, deep empathy, and abiding grace.  Jess Winters belongs on a list of teenage characters with Dorothy Allison’s Bone, Kaye Gibbon’s Ellen Foster and Harper Lee’s Scout.  It is no wonder that for the townspeople, her loss is irrecoverable. This novel hums with emotional intelligence and structural complexity, and has a big old human ache in its heart.” (Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted)

“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.” (Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow)

Sycamore is an amazing showcase for Bryn Chancellor’s great talent, the way she allows each of the various characters to shine on their own, but connects them with such subtlety that their light forms a constellation that maps out the grief, the regrets, and the strength of an entire community. This is a powerful debut novel, one without flaw, and it will slay you.” (Kevin Wilson, author of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth and The Family Fang)

“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)

“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.” (Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water and Island of Bones)

“Haunting and elegiac, Bryn Chancellor’s Sycamore masterfully traces the fault lines of trauma and loss that resurface in the wake of a tragedy’s second coming. Chancellor’s multivocal narrative brims with intelligence and insight, and her subtle writing poignantly illuminates the ways in which we are sometimes bound, for better and for worse, by a collective sorrow.” (Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus)

“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.” (Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life)

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