Longlisted for the 2018 International Dublin Literary Award
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.
Jen Sookfong Lee was born and raised on Vancouver’s East Side, where she now lives with her son. Her books include The Better Mother, a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award, The End of East, and Shelter. A popular radio personality, Jen was the voice behind CBC Radio One’s weekly writing column, Westcoast Words, for three years, appears regularly as a contributor on The Next Chapter, and is a frequent co-host of the Studio One Book Club. Jen teaches writing in the continuing studies departments at both Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.
“With flawless writing and gothic imagination, Lee shows how a forgotten crime can reveal uncomfortable truths about family, class, and racism. The Conjoined is a fearless novel and a compulsive read.” — Emily Schultz author of The Blondes
“Though the plot races along, I found depths to The Conjoined that moved me . . . This book is a gem of necessary truths.” — A Bookish Type
“This is a story about family relationships and how they can break and fail. It's also about identity, suffering, broken social systems, and understanding how the past forms us. There's a lot going on here, but these themes organically engage and shape one another.” — Falling Letters
“Flawlessly written and a page-turner for sure, The Conjoined is a rare read.” — Owen Sound Sun Times
“Lee’s pen makes dangerous, poetic strokes, creating something both literary and textured, etched in satin and grit. Told in character vignettes too immediate to be called flashbacks, The Conjoined is a hungry and visceral novel, anchored in place and time.” — Scene Magazine
“Sookfong Lee weaves an intricate and unsettling narrative about identity by pairing seemingly disparate stories into a single work which resists the traditional form of a novel in a way which echoes the messy complexity of real life . . . the novel is fresh, and frank, and infuriating — a narrative which resists closure and demands compassion.” — Ottawa Review of Books
“Creating a protagonist such as Jessica Campbell allows Lee to flesh out in unflinching and sometimes droll ways the hamartia of privilege . . . If one person’s escape is another’s adversity, The Conjoined implies that we can no longer avert our eyes.” — The Malahat Review
“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.” — Publishers Weekly
“Sookfong Lee is a gifted writer, telling a complicated story with depth and insight . . . The Conjoined is a quick, compelling read. But its characters and their stories will linger.” — Vancouver Sun
“An insightful look at a daughter’s efforts to come to terms with the past.” — Toronto Star
“Every once in a while, a book comes along that is both universal in its readability and specific in its appeal to Vancouverites . . . This is a page-turner — guaranteed to be read hungrily in one or two sittings — but an intensely literary one.” — Georgia Straight
“The Conjoined is a complex, refreshing and relevant departure from a well-worn approach, one that’s best tackled after surrendering your expectations.” — The Globe and Mail
“Lee draws from Vancouver’s social history, pop culture and an exploration of family dynamics for a woman-focused, refreshing take on the traditional thriller.” — Metro Toronto
“The novel moves quickly and absorbingly, revealing evidence at a rate that inspires compulsive reading. The book’s setting of Vancouver and its outlying residential areas is effectively conveyed with shapeliness and depth . . . When the story does transcend formula, it does so via bold and compelling routes, defying expectations in genuinely original ways.” — The Fiddlehead