The Conjoined: A Novel by Jen Sookfong Lee
While cleaning out her late mother’s deep freezer days after her death, Jessica and her father find a human body frozen at the bottom. They call the Vancouver police, who find a second body upon further inspection.
Her father might not remember who the girls were, but Jessica immediately identifies them as Casey and Jamie, two girls her mother hosted during her years as a prolific foster parent. Authorities presumed the girls had run away years ago, but the bodies in the basement prove otherwise. Refusing to wait until the bodies thawed to learn what happened, Jessica digs into the past of both the girls and her mother to form her own hypothesis.
Predictably, her investigation turns into an opportunity for self examination, as she scrutinizes her own motivations for becoming a social worker.
I enjoyed this book for some pretty strange reasons. From an anthropological standpoint, I found it riveting to watch the evolution of blonde-haired Jessica and her boyfriend, a do-good hipster. Through his character, I was able to explore the hoards of “save the world” types who seem ever-present in this newfangled Washington D.C..
Everyone knows the type– vegetarian chili connoisseurs and Tom Waits fans, as author Jen Sookfong Lee writes. We watch them evaluate the privilege inherent in the lifestyles, as well as the systems they’ve bought into in order to help those less fortunate. More importantly, we watch them come to different conclusions.
The Conjoined also provides a different Asian character than the stereotypical mathlete with a “tiger mom.” Casey and Jamie are complex young women, struggling financially and searching for a place in the world that doesn’t hurt so much. They’re angry, resentful, and violent, like many other kids who have been let down by the adults in their lives. Sometimes, you’ll be angry at them for their irrational behavior and bad decisions. Mostly, you’ll be angry for them.
Read The Conjoined this coming fall if you’re interested in emotionally-wrought mysteries. If you watch desaturated crime dramas like Wallander and Broadchurch, this will be right up your alley, because that’s almost how I mentally dramatized this book while reading.
The focus is less on the crime itself, and more about the people who played a major part. In this book, no one person is a murder, because it took a community to put Casey and Jamie into that freezer. A series of failures, inadequacies, and misjudgments that Jessica– and you by proxy– will unearth.
Guest review contributed by Brown Books & Green Tea. Brown Books & Green Tea specializes in reading and reviewing multicultural literature. BB> fills a void, focusing on books by a wide range of writers from diverse backgrounds.