Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chime by Franny Billingsley

How I found this book: I saw many pre-release reviews and read the blurb on "coming out" lists. I fear I ignored it for a while, for two reasons: first, I have a character in one of my stories who shares a name with the protagonist, and this always annoys me a little... second, I thought it was a Ridiculous Romance. This is not a genre, but perhaps ought to be, since they seem to be kind of common. But somehow I changed my mind and put it on hold at the local library. {Book Aunt is partly to be thanked for my change of heart on the topic.}

More or less, this book is about:
A swamp. A town. A town by a swamp. A girl in the town, a girl with a slightly insane sister, a girl who had a stepmother who's now dead. A girl who believes she's a witch, that she's evil, that she's caused every calamity from her sister's accident to the fire in the library.
The town is called Swampsea, and the girl is Briony Larkin.
And then Elric shows up. Elric is new and different. Briony compares him to the electric light, a new phenomenon to her. He doesn't know about her wickedness, and he doesn't seem to care, oddly enough, when she tells him.
But it takes more than Elric to help when the railroad plans to drain the swamp, and the spirits who live in it exact revenge... even against Briony's sister Rose.
Life is as slippery and difficult to figure as the swamp is. Truth is hard to discover. Things aren't as they seem, and new obstacles are always rising in Briony's way...

This is an amazing book: puzzling, scintillating, sometimes maddening, often moving. Witty and skillful writing {no quotes here because I had to send it back to the library}, a tight and engaging plot, well-drawn characters, and high-stakes action make for a terrific and fast-paced read. I felt as though I were sharing the experiences with Briony the whole time, whether quashing through mud in the Swamp, not-watching a witch's hanging, sharing a garden party space with a very annoying young man, or standing in the courtroom on trial.
And yes, all those things do happen in this very packed, very engaging book.
Briony would deny that she's a sympathetic character, but I beg to differ. In her coy, difficult, timid/brave personality lies her greatness. Of course, her narrative helps a good deal as well. I am still trying to find adjectives for it... witty and intelligent, dark and joyful by turns, alternately cocky and vulnerable, sometimes guilty, sometimes brash. I got to liking her so much that I cheered at every little step forward she made. Her devotion to her sister is touching as well, even though she doesn't seem to really love her, only to feel obligated.
I recommend the interview with Franny Billingsley on The Enchanted Inkpot: http://enchantedinkpot.livejournal.com/85871.html

Age rec and other things: I would say thirteen as my absolute bottom limit. There are some veiled references to adult content that are not indecent, but I knew what was being talked about. {However, Elric at one point states his refusal to "go further" than a kiss, saying to the girl "I promised your father."} Also some rather gruesome interactions with a creature called the Dead Hand... more would be a spoiler, but let's just say it is nothing we would want to encounter. Some business with ghosts, some business with nasty people. And I'm not sure Ms. Billingsley holds a very reverent view of Christianity... our narrator doesn't, though "Bible Balls" are used to keep the spirits in the marsh away from people.

Bottom line: Read it. Amazing style and a very good plot. Adults should try it, teens should try it, boys and girls should both try it.

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