The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

This is a novel that caught my eye when I was at my local bookstore. I remember seeing its cover, reading its title, and then reaching over to grab the book and read the premise on its back cover. It hooked me. I wasn’t able to buy it that day but it stayed in my mind for 2 months, and I just managed to make the time to read it now. After all of that buildup, I’m happy to say that the novel met my approval.

When Jessica’s mother passes away, it becomes her responsibility to go through her mother’s belongings. In the basement freezer, Jessica makes a shocking discovery: there are 2 dead girls inside. She immediately recognizes them as a pair of foster children who lived with her family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng, two troubled and beautiful teenage sisters from Vancouver. During their time at Jessica’s home, they wreaked all manner of havoc before finally disappearing. Everyone thought they had simply run away. Clearly, they hadn’t. As Jessica tries to piece together the life of Casey and Jamie, she begins to see another side to her mother, Donna. The truths she discovers will make her question her own life choices, as she decides what she will do with her future.

This novel is not a thriller. I feel like I need to put that out there because most people (myself included) will read about the 2 dead girls and automatically assume that this story will be a whodunnit mystery. This story is a reflective one, with complex characters and multiple storylines that converge to put the picture together. We read about the struggle of Casey and Jamie’s parents, Chinese immigrants who struggle to make a life in Canada. We read about young love and the dangerous world we live in. We read about guilt and betrayals and family secrets that can scar someone for life. We read about the different factors that lead to a person making specific choices, choices that shape one’s personality. This story travels from past to present, between different perspectives, with mini-segments that talk about what led to the final moments in the lives of Casey and Jamie. All the while, we see Jessica try to grapple with the image of the mother she has always adored with the woman she now sees coming into the limelight. And through this struggle, we see growth and peace. I liked the reflective nature of this novel, with its pacing and its interesting writing style. I found it intriguing in a way that is very different from your usual thriller or mystery. This story made me think, and it stayed with me long after I read it. When a book makes a strong impact on your mind, then you know it’s a good one. I definitely enjoyed it, and this is going on my must-buy shelf!

Happy reading ~

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