When Chime first arrived at the store, it didn’t really spark my interest. I wasn’t a fan of the cover (still not, for that matter), and for some reason I had it in my head that it was simply another in a long line of vapid imitations of a certain popular sparkly supernatural romance. But then, to my surprise, it was nominated for the National Book Award (after a now infamous debacle in which Lauren Myracle’s Shine was mistakenly heard instead of Chime). With the book world atwitter with this NBA drama, I felt it was high time I actually read both books involved. (I had read Shine before its release in May.) And, so, I did just that.
Briony is a witch. She knows this because she can speak to the Old Ones, the spirits that haunt her home in Swampsea, and because she has already wreaked enough havoc for a lifetime. Her stepmother’s death is on her head, as is her sister’s mental condition. But Briony is determined to keep her power in check. If she can control herself, maybe she can save her sister Rose from the deadly swamp cough. Maybe she can stop herself from bringing pain to anyone else. Maybe if she squishes her true thoughts and desires behind her calm Briony mask, everything will somehow become right.
The key, Briony realizes, is to always remember to hate herself. Ever since Stepmother discovered Briony’s awful secret, she has known to be careful. But now, especially, any sign of happiness or joy or enthusiasm is a warning. When her father takes in boarders, Mr. Claybourne and his son Eldric, Briony’s determination will be tested. Eldric, she decides, is a lion, full of bounding energy, alive and joyous and unlike any other person Briony has met before. Suddenly, she doesn’t hate herself quite so much. But letting her guard down will have dire consequences, consequences that will possibly destroy everything around her. Briony knows she must make the right choice–the painful choice. She will reveal herself as a witch and submit herself to a trial and, ultimately, execution. She will save her sister. Her stoic self-hatred will finally have its reward.
Would the above summary lead you to believe I laughed out loud countless times while reading this novel? Probably not, but it’s 100% true. Briony’s voice is exactly the sort of unflinching, wry, blunt narration I find especially compelling. She drives the plot incessantly forward–I had to tear myself away to do essential things, like eat, sleep, and shower. Franny Billingsley’s style is somehow sparing and vivid at the same time. I especially enjoyed her descriptions, which were both appropriately brief and deliciously literary. Take this, for instance: “A poem doesn’t come out and tell you what it has to say. It circles back on itself, eating its own tail and making you guess what it means.” Mmm…tasty!
This is a fantastic, enthralling read for anyone who likes their supernatural thriller/romances with a healthy dose of intelligence and sarcasm. It’s also great for anyone who just plain likes a good story, because, when it comes right down to it, that’s exactly what this is.
Go forth and read!
Miss Megan G.
Chime, by Franny Billingsley, Penguin Books, Ages 14+