My big YA love: Chime by Franny Billingsley

It’s been a while since I posted — yes, all due to the house sale of death. I would try to swear you and I into never speaking of it again, but I know I won’t keep my end of the bargain. Especially since we’re about to order passports for all the family members.  Things are finally getting exciting…

With many months of hard work finally starting to pay off, I thought it apt to celebrate the work of one of my favourite authors: Franny Billingsley.  Franny is well-known for the painstaking effort she puts into her prose and –gush– what lush prose it is.  Her most recent novel–CHIME–was several years in the writing, and worth the wait.  It is without a doubt my favourite YA book.  I only wish she wrote faster so there were more books for me to read.

Chime cover

 

Summary: 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.

Why I loved it: I had a “Jerry Maguire – You had me at hello” moment with this book.  It starts with the protagonist insisting she’s absolutely guilty of the crimes with which she’s charged, and she ought to be hanged –“Now, if you please.”  So of course I was intrigued.  But that’s not the half of it.  Briony is such a unique heroine.  She possesses a curious combination of feistiness, razor-sharp wit and playful innocence, all wrapped up in a guilt-ridden box.  The dynamic between Briony and Eldric left me feeling like a giddy sixteen-year-old, falling in love for the first time. Their growing romance was slow and delicious–based upon matched wits and shared adventure– one I could truly buy into.   I also adored the complex relationship Briony shared with her sister Rose.  It was easy to see how a sister like Rose could elicit alternative reactions of frustration, protectiveness, pride and affection. One of my family members bears similarity to Rose, so there was an added emotional element for me.

With her haunting language, Franny Billingsley gives the swamp setting and all its magical inhabitants–Mucky Face, the Boggy Mun and the Dead Hand amongst others–so much personality, they become powerful characters within their own right.  Despite her best efforts to avoid them, Briony is forced to interact with the swamp folk in one way or another.  Her reactions to each– camaraderie, mutual mistrust,  pure terror–convey the danger and the lure of the swamp.

Finally, there’s the plot itself.  The storyline is clever, throwing in several red herrings and surprising twists.  Around three-quarters into the book, I realised what was going on.  But instead of  feeling deflated over having worked out the riddle at the heart of the book, I experienced a sense of urgency.  I felt like a member of the audience watching an old-time “He’s behind you!” pantomime.  I could see Briony struggling over all the clues, not quite able to put them together and all I wanted to do was reach into the book and say: “there it is!  See?  Everything’s going to be okay.”   If I ever meet Ms Billingsley, I’m going to ask her whether that was her plan all along.

To me, Chime is an almost perfect book with amazing characters, complex plot and lyrical prose to die for.

Quote:

“I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story. I can’t relive those memories—the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp. How can you possibly think me innocent? Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.I know you believe you’re giving me a chance—or, rather, it’s the Chime Child giving me the chance. She’s desperate, of course, not to hang an innocent girl again, but please believe me: Nothing in my story will absolve me of guilt. It will only prove what I’ve already told you, which is that I’m wicked. Can’t the Chime Child take my word for it?In any event, where does she expect me to begin? The story of a wicked girl has no true beginning. I’d have to begin with the day I was born.If Eldric were to tell the story, he’d likely begin with himself, on the day he arrived in the Swampsea. That’s where proper stories begin, don’t they, when the handsome stranger arrives and everything goes wrong?But this isn’t a proper story, and I’m telling you, I ought to be hanged.”

 

 

 

 

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Alison Whipp

Lawyer. Writes Middle Grade and YA. Known to cackle raucously at 13 y.o. boy-humour. Partial to baked goods of the sweet variety.
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