Chime by Franny BillingsleyMarch 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.