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Friday, December 23, 2022


Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Book Beginnings quote:

Friday56 quote (from page 19, last page of preview):


It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother—and then vanishes.

Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn’t rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.

But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister’s movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy’s complicated family—and herself—than she ever could have imagined. (Publisher)

Review: Amy, the narrator of the two above quotes, is the younger daughter in the Lee family, the daughter who lives in the shadow of her beautiful, talented, star-child older sister, Sylvie. When she receives a phone call from their cousin in The Netherlands asking if Sylvie has returned to the States after her visit there, Amy gets concerned that something is wrong, very wrong. She does some investigating, like going to Sylvie's house, and becomes quite alarmed forcing her to book a flight across the Atlantic to see what she can discover about this missing sister, a sister she doesn't know as well as she thought.

I wanted to like Searching for Sylvie Lee more than I did. The mystery was clunky with a few red-herrings which never tricked me at all. We read this as a book club selection and our discussion was unremarkable. We mostly spent our hour together recalling details from the book that others had forgotten. The characters and motivations all seemed off. For example the cousin who called Amy in New York asking about Sylvie completely dismisses the idea that anything is wrong once she gets to The Netherlands. There is a cello in the story which seems so odd, since it is a difficult instrument to learn to play, and it is big and clunky. It keeps entering the story at various times, until we discover it is a good place to hide jewels. (Oh, that is why we need a cello in the story!) Few of the story's details worked for me and the plot left me feeling flat. As an immigrant story, it had potential, but that thread was only secondary to the mystery of where is Sylvie Lee, and one that was barely picked.

Rating 3 stars.

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