Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Chime by Franny Billingsley

March 17th 2011; Dial


Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know. (courtesy of Goodreads)


Shaking my Magic 8 Ball here...Will Chime win any literary awards? "Without a doubt." Will YA readers flock to Chime? "Don't count on it."

Some books are meant to be appreciated as much as they are to be enjoyed. There aren't many YA books of literary quality (there aren't that many adult books of literary quality either). Of the books I've read in the past year, only Jellicoe Road; Will Grayson, Will Grayson; and Revolution come to mind. Literary books take work to read. You can't just be immersed in the plot. You have to think while you're reading to absorb the careful meaning the author places in the prose. While more difficult, this can transform a book from interesting to extraordinary. I enjoyed Chime once I got used to it, but it never made that leap from a well-written book to something that made an indelible mark in my mind like Jellicoe Road and Revolution.

Briony, our narrator, is one of the most miserable characters you'll find. Convinced that she's an evil witch who hurts everyone around her, she despises herself. She holds everyone back, so she can't hurt them. Eldric, the new lion-boy, refuses to stay away. He brings light into her life and that scares her. Pretty soon, she has to decide not only if she'll open herself to Eldric, but if she's willing to brave the witch-hating townspeople to save her village and sister from the evil swamp spirits.

The plot sounds crazy, but Briony's world really is fascinating. There's just a hint of fantasy and the rest reads like a historical novel. It took me a long time to understand what was going on, but once I did, the plot flowed pretty smoothly.

The characters and writing are much more important than the plot for Chime. The prose is beautiful. The author clearly put great thought into every sentence she wrote. It reads like poetry. Chime is basically written in a stream of consciousness mode. The book shows every thought that's going through Briony's head. Like anyone else, Briony's thoughts often veer into tangents that seemingly have nothing to do with the current situation, but are somehow linked in her mind. It makes the book confusing and choppy, but so insightful.

Briony is a fascinating character. Her self-hatred colors all her thoughts, making her an unreliable narrator. At the same time, she carefully observes life around her. Her comments about her father, deceased stepmother, sister, the village-people, Eldric, and even about nature were very different than the way most people think. It was like putting on a pair of glasses with too high of a prescription. Everything you see is sharpened yet distorted. I also loved her sister Rose. Rose is mentally disabled in some way. Despite her limitations or perhaps because of them, she sees people clearly. Her simple statements were often more insightful and accurate than Briony's.

Chime is a beautiful book with well-developed characters, a complex plot, and incredible prose. It is one of those books that can be read over and over just to contemplate the wording. While I appreciated the literary quality, Chime just never made the leap from being appreciated to being loved.

Rating: 3.5 / 5


  1. I haven't pick up this book yet. Mostly cause for some reason I can't bring myself to think I would read it. Thanks for the review!

  2. This review was very well written. It gave me a true feeling for what reading the book would be like. I really appreciate that. I picked Chime up at the library yesterday. I don't know what I'll think of it, but your review gave me a better idea of what I'm in for. :)

    ♥ Trish
    Just a YA Girl

  3. "It was like putting on a pair of glasses with too high of a prescription. Everything you see is sharpened yet distorted."

    That's kind of a brilliant way of describing it Alison! This is an absolutely beautiful review, you gave me such a good idea of the feel of the book!

  4. Excellent review! I have a copy of Chime sitting on my shelf waiting. You have increased my desire to read it sooner rather than later.

  5. WONDERFUL review, Alison. I've read a bunch of reviews for this book, but yours gives me the best idea of what to expect.

    "Briony, our narrator, is one of the most miserable characters you'll find."

    That right there is why I decided not to read it. I don't want to spend all that time wth a character like that.

  6. Chime was the first book I bought for my Nook Color, because I loved the cover, and I thought it would just be another YA paranormal novel, but I ended up loving it. It made that leap of love for me. :)

  7. I didn't know this one was more on the literary end. I wasn't interested in reading it, but now I am because of your review.

    I beg to differ about literary novels. I've actually stopped reading YA books (for the time being because I'm a mood reader) and picked up some fabulous adult literary novels. Yes, they do take time to get into. They are different than adult mainstream/commercial fiction, too -- James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, etc. Literary fiction is character driven vs plot-driven. I've actually fallen in love with adult literary fiction. Most are filled with a lot of narrative vs dialogue and will not appeal to all, especially those who love YA and enjoy fast-paced commercial fiction stories. However, it's nice to take a break and read something different.

    As a writer, I've gained some wonderful insight into my own writing my reading adult literary fiction. These are great books out there if you would like some recommendations!

  8. Great review- very honest. I bought this when it first came out (cover love was a large part of it!) and I like the sound of this, but it's one of those books that I'm not desperate to read so it keeps getting put to the bottom of my reading pile.

  9. Ha! I like your literary Magic 8!

    As a lit grad student, I certainly understand what you mean about it taking work to interpret But I find that's how most literary fiction is for me, appreciated but not adored.

  10. *Nods in agreement* Though it has received critical acclaim by many prestigious book review journals, I just don't think many YA readers will flock to the book due to its slow pacing and the numerous literary devices. You really have to be vested into something about the book in order to keep reading it. Great, honest review.

  11. Amazing review! I've heard a lot of people say they didn't love this book, but your review is the only one that really explains why. I see exactly what you mean about it not making the "leap" of love - I really want to read this one, though, just for the experience. Thanks for the great review! :)

  12. I'm sorry the book didn't make it to the next level with you, it definitely did with me! Still, glad you appreciated it nonetheless :)

  13. I've honestly never been a fan of literary novels (too many bad ones forced on me in school, ugh), but the way you describe this one kinda makes me want to give Chime a shot. The world building sounds really intriguing, though I'm still on the fence about reading a character that sounds like such a downer for the whole length of the book. Maybe I'll check this one out of the library rather than buying it outright.

    Thanks so much for the honest review!


  14. Heh, you're right: that plot does sound crazy. And yet, I have to say I'm very intrigued by what I'm reading. As much as I love to read non-literary books just for the ease and mindlessness of them, I tend to be much more of a fan of the quality of literary writing, even if it requires more work on my part.

  15. This is such a beautiful review. That last line really sums up why I never picjed this one up. It seems like a cool story with great writing, but without much to leave me aching for it.

  16. This is a wonderful review Alison. It's too bad that there can't be more of a marriage between literary quality and YA. This sounds like a really interesting and complex story but I don't know if I would bump it up to the top place on my TBR list... maybe for a rainy day.

    And in other news... I can finally comment on your blog again *squee* whatever was going on with my blogger account is finally fixed!!!

  17. I haven't read this yet, but the author teaches at my grad school, VCFA, so I just spent two weeks with her and everyone was talking about this book. It doesn't seem like something I would enjoy either, but I'm going to give it a try. Anyway I just wanted to chime in (lol) and say that Franny is absolutely adorable and smart and funny!

  18. I have to say, I couldn't get passed page 20 with this. I just couldn't connect with the imagination side of things.
    I appreciate this book and think Franny has an amazing imagination but l just couldn't get on the same 'level' as her.

  19. I really cannot recommend reading this book enough - a constantly compelling fantasy plot, an intriguing and malevolent swamp setting and a set of the most quirky and captivating characters you'll ever come across.

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