Searching for Sylvie Lee

Rating: ⭐
Author: Jean Kwok
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pub. date: Jun. 2019 (read Aug. 2019)

I really like Jean Kwok’s writing style. I read Girl in Translation last year and loved it and have been dying to read Searching for Sylvie Lee since I first read the synopsis. Both books are quite different, but left me with similar feelings. I feel like both were probably 4 star books, but something about the writing and the characters just makes me feel very strongly about them and in the end, I rated both books 5 stars. Searching for Sylvie Lee does get a little dramatic and unbelievable towards the end, but because the book was really about character development for me, I can let it slide.

Searching for Sylvie Lee is told from multiple perspectives, with the most dominant (for me anyways), being told from the point of view of Amy. Amy is younger sister to Sylvie and both are daughters of Chinese-American immigrants. Their parents moved to America and struggled to survive, deciding to send their first daughter, Sylvie, to the Netherlands to live with her grandmother until they could afford to give her a better life. She returns at the age of 9 (I think, can’t quite remember), after the birth of the second daughter, Amy. The story is narrated by Amy, Sylvie, and their mother, so we get many perspectives from this small family.

To Amy, Sylvie is the epitome of accomplishment and she greatly looks up to her, considering herself the lesser sister. To Sylvie, Amy is the image of innocence. She works very hard to be successful because she feels her parents will never love her as much as Amy since she was raised away from them for the first part of her life.

When their grandmother becomes ill, Sylvie returns to the Netherlands to say goodbye, but disappears before returning home. No one knows what happened to her and Amy’s dutch relatives don’t seem too concerned about Sylvie. But Amy knows Sylvie would never just disappear like that, so she jumps on a plane for the first time in her life and travels to the Netherlands to search for the truth.

This is the prefect family drama about all the feelings of love and resentment that exist within the family dynamic. Everyone has their own secrets and the unspoken past has had longstanding and far-reaching consequences on the entire family. Sylvie has a life in Holland that none of her family in America could really understand and the impact of growing up under the thumb of her Aunt impacted her in ways the sisters don’t understand until much later. Sylvie struggles to be the daughter she thinks she should be, while Amy is afraid to live her life the way she would like to.

Everyone has secrets and they have been tearing the family apart for decades without them even realizing it. This is very much a book about the immigrant experience, but also a book about living courageously. I thought that each character was well realized and developed. Everyone had flaws, but it only made them more relatable and served to make me empathize more with each character.

Like I said, it’s a character driven book, but it does have a strong plot to support it. We’re propelled by the mystery element of what happened to Sylvie, but discover so many secrets and deceptions along the way. That said, don’t come to this book looking for a mystery/thriller. It’s not the driving force of the story, but rather a tool to connect with the deeper pain and anguish of each of the characters. The ways they’ve been wronged, the mistakes they’ve made, and the ways in which they’ve been misunderstood.

Sadie

Rating: 
Author: Courtney Summers
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub date: Sep. 4th, 2018 (read July 2018)

I have a copy of one of Courtney Summers other books, All the Rage, that’s been sitting on my shelf waiting for me for awhile, but I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about this book and St. Martin’s Press was so kind as to send me an advance electronic copy in exchange for an honest review, so I decided to read this one first.

As usual, I barely read the synopsis for this one and picked it up mostly based on the hype, so I went into this blind. Sadie is the story of 19 year old Sadie Hunter and her younger sister Mattie. The book starts with Sadie’s disappearance after Mattie is found murdered. The girls mother was a drug abuser and did little parenting of her two daughters. They grew up with their surrogate grandmother, May Beth, but Sadie ultimately took on the responsibility of raising Mattie. She loved her sister with every fibre of her being, even though Mattie sometimes drove her crazy, so her death tears Sadie apart.

Sadie believes she knows who murdered Mattie and runs away from their home in Cold Creek to find him. The story is told from two different perspectives and played a big role in why I liked this book. Half of the story is told from Sadie’s perspective, but the other half is the transcript of an 8-part podcast called the girls, narrated by journalist and radio personality, West McCray. I thought the podcast transcript was brilliant and totally set the scene for this book. I literally never listen to podcasts, but my partner does and this read just like Serial, which I’ve heard him listening to on occasion, and reminded me of the old town crime mystery documentaries that I used to watch on TLC growing up.

So we get two very different perspectives from this novel. Sadie’s perspective is deeply personal and emotional. She is very much a girl who’s entire world has been torn apart and she starts to damn the consequences in her desperation to find her sister’s killer. Then there’s the other perspective from West McCray, who is more clinical about Sadie’s disappearance and is always two steps behind Sadie as he tries to track her down (side note: I know West is a man, but for some reason I pictured him as a woman throughout almost my entire reading. Anyone else get that vibe?). I thought that both narratives were incredibly strong and together made this a strong novel. Most of the double narrative books I read are split timeline historical fiction novels and I almost always find the modern day timeline boring compared to the historical one, but with this book, I found both narratives extremely compelling. Sadie’s story had depth and McCray’s was intriguing. I just felt so transported during every “podcast episode” that I couldn’t help but love it. Plus it was different from anything else I’ve read.

That said, parts of this book are tough to read. “Girls disappear all the time”. It’s a sad statement, but a true one. There is child abuse in this novel and Summers tackles some disturbing topics. I appreciated though that while Summers didn’t hold back the punches, she’s not graphic. “I’ve decided the gruesome details of what was uncovered.. will not be a part of this show,.. it’s violence and brutality do not exist for your entertainment.” Many books and shows are needlessly gratuitous when it comes to describing violence, so I’m glad she left it out. What she’s not afraid to tackle though are Sadie’s brutal thoughts. She shocked me several times, but she was determined that no one else suffer what she and her sister suffered, even if she had to destroy herself in the process.

The ending killed me. I won’t give any spoilers. It’s brutal, but it’s also exactly how it should be. I flew through this book in a single long weekend camping trip and I would definitely recommend it. I’m feeling a bit more of an itch now to finally pick up my copy of All the Rage.

Sadie’s publish date is Sept. 4th, 2018 if you want to pick up a copy!