by Chancellor, Bryn

"In the tradition of EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, and with echoes of OLIVE KITTERIDGE, comes a stunning debut from Bryn Chancellor, an award-winning writer hailed as "amazing, sensitive, and thoughtful" by Kevin Wilson"-

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. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

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 a uthor 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 Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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