A masterful and gripping novel from “an undeniably talented writer” (Globe and Mail)
On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.
As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.
Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.
Jessica Campbell's memories of her late, perfect mother, Donna, are shattered by the discovery of the bodies of two teenage girls, missing for 28 years, at the bottom of Donna's chest freezers. Jessica's life spirals as she learns of her mother's past and the troubled histories of Jamie and Casey Cheng the two dead girls and their parents, who fought to survive in Vancouver's Chinatown. Lee (The Better Mother) hops back and forth through time: from 2016 to the mid-1980s, tracing how the girls came to live with Donna in foster care, and going as far back as the '40s and '50s, exploring Donna's youth. The narrative is one of self-discovery as Jessica, appalled, seeks not so much the why of her mother's cruel actions as the who who she was, really, and how much of her is reflected in Jessica's life and decisions. The mystery of how the girls died is not the book's main focus, but this captivating novel still moves with the pace of a thriller as it deftly fills in the gaps in the lives of several people, each fractured by horrors of their very own, joined as one in betrayal, trauma, and uncertainty.
The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee is one of the worst books I have read this year. Jessica Campbell’s mother, Donna has passed away. Jessica and her father, Gerry are clearing out her things (especially all the health food they cannot stand). Gerry goes downstairs to clear out the freezers (you just know what he is going to find) and finds a body. Detective Chris Gallo comes in to lead the investigation and the forensic team soon finds a second body. Jessica suspects that they are two foster children that disappeared years ago. How did they end up in the freezers? Could her mother have killed them? Jessica is determined to get to the bottom of the story. Jessica must look to the past to get answers. Will she be able to find out the truth?
The Conjoined was a strange story with a disappointing ending. The story focuses on Jessica, her search for answers, and her relationship with her boyfriend, Trevor. The novel is disjointed and jumps around making it hard to read. It starts in the present, then goes back in time, then forward, then back. I felt like a yo-yo. I persevered and kept reading though. I get to the end and I am disappointed (upset, disgusted and so much more). The novel has foul language (too much of it) and intimate scenes. I give The Conjoined 1 out of 5 stars (I really did not like it). Jessica was not a likeable character. She is with Trevor, but spends her time fantasizing about Detective Chris Gallo (and drinking too much alcohol). The Conjoined was just not for me.