The Conjoined follows social worker Jessica Campbell as she struggles to uncover her dead mother’s most deeply buried secrets. Set alternately in present-day and 1980s Vancouver, The Conjoined is a literary novel inspired by crime fiction and that challenges our perceptions of victim and villain, saviour and sinner.
On a sunny May morning, Jessica sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery—two dead girls curled into the bottoms of her mother’s deep chest freezers. Immediately, she remembers a pair of teenaged sisters who lived with the family in 1988 as foster children: Casey and Jamie Cheng—troubled, beautiful and wild. After six weeks, they disappeared, with social workers and police officers assuming they had run away. Jessica becomes obsessed with these girls—their stories, their family and how they came to live—and fundamentally change—Jessica and her parents, Donna and Gerry.
Jessica struggles with grief, a job she hates and a quickly disintegrating relationship with her boyfriend as she searches for records as well as the people who loved and hurt the Cheng sisters. As she learns more about Casey, Jamie and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also begins to unearth other, darker stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother and foster mother. Jessica delves further into Donna’s past and discovers old and horrifying secrets, secrets that shatter what she once believed about her family and that point to the complicated truth behind Casey and Jamie’s fate.
The Conjoined is a novel that unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and how race and class can assign unwanted roles to society’s most vulnerable individuals and the well-intentioned social service workers who mean to help. Set in the middle-class suburb of North Vancouver, as well as Chinatown and the infamous Downtown Eastside, The Conjoined traces the often hidden fractures that can divide our diverse Canadian cities and keep their ethnic, economic and cultural communities apart.
ECW Press, September 2016
Named one of 2016’s 99 Best Books by The National Post
Finalist for the 2017 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
“In the universe Lee has created, coming to the truth is more about nuance, empathy and openhearted understanding than it is about any strict, simplistic set of rules about good and evil, right or wrong. In this way, 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
“This is a page-turner—guaranteed to be read hungrily in one or two sittings—but an intensely literary one. And one that raises the spectres of poverty and exclusion.” — The Georgia Straight
“Lee is a gifted writer, telling a complicated story with depth and insight.” — The Vancouver Sun