Nominated by:

Vancouver Public Library, Canada

Publisher of nominated edition:

ECW Press, USA

The Conjoined

Jen Sookfong Lee    

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.

About the author

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.

(from publisher)

Librarian’s comments

While clearing her late mother’s home, social worker Jessica Campbell makes a shocking discovery. At the bottom of her mother’s storage freezer are the bodies of two young girls missing for twenty-eight years. Jamie and Casey Cheng. When last seen, the girls were foster children in the care of Jessica’s late mother. At this point, readers may expect a conventional, fast-paced police procedural, but Lee is far too subtle an author for genre plots. The question asked is not “how did this happen?” but “how could this have happened?” She examines the difficult life of the Chengs as they coped with the social and economic realities of Vancourer’s Chinatown. The tragic life of the Cheng family is contrasted with the warm and grounded life of the Campbells, revealing the hypocrisies that sustain society’s illusions of community and altruism. A complex and challenging novel form the celebrated author of The Better Mother and End of East.

Related Entries