Chime by Frannie Billingsley

86916090Lynn: Already racking up 6 starred reviews, Chime (Penguin/Dial 2011) is winning admirers everywhere. I am one of the throng and if Bookends gave stars we’d add to the count.  It’s been a while since a book hooked me so thoroughly or kept me so spellbound.  I could probably save a lot of writing time if I just say I love EVERYTHING about this book down to the last comma but I’ll try to focus on just a few of the elements.

The beautiful Larkin twins, Briony and Rose live with their father, the stern Reverend Larkin in the small village of Swampsea on the edge of the bog.  It is the early twentieth century and progress has come in the form of Mr. Clayborne who wishes to continue draining the bog in order to build a railroad line.  Briony can hear and see the supernatural inhabitants of the marsh and knows that in their anger, they are infecting the village children with swamp cough.  The Boggy Mun warns Briony that she must stop the project or her sister Rose will die too.  It is a heavy burden as Briony bears a terrible secret guilt and understands that she must never forget to hate herself for what she has already done to Rose and to her stepmother, now dead just 2 months.

Above all it is the gorgeous descriptive writing that powers this book in all ways – the characters, the setting, and the voice particularly.  Briony’s narrative voice is strong and distinct.  This is a girl whose very heart and soul is wide-open to us.  We know her instantly and completely from her every secret wish to her intense self-loathing and yet be warned – Briony is a very unreliable narrator.  She tells us true and yet tells us false.  Our understanding of all the characters is reflected  through Briony’s unique vision and each one from villager to boggish nightmare walks out of the pages into our minds.

The setting is astonishing.  Billingsley brilliantly crafts a place that is at once as real to us as our backyard and yet like no place we could ever imagine on our own.  It is due to the strength of her skill that we believe utterly in this place.  Here are some examples:

The water was gray, the reeds were black.  With every step, we squeezed the lungs of the swamp.  It breathed out mist and poison.

We leapt into snickleways, waded through velvet ooze.  We dripped out the far side, trailing smells of sulfur and rotten eggs.

The plot – well, I should stop so Cindy can have a turn but let me just say you need to pay attention to every word because each is there for a reason.  Savor this book, linger if possible, turn back and read again.  This is genius.

Cindy: Consider the opening lines: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.” Briony is on trial and is forced to tell her story…starting with the arrival of handsome Eldric who sees in Briony strengths and talents that she cannot see herself. Briony remembers liking connect-the-dots puzzles saying that’s what stories do:

They connect the random dots of life together into a picture. But it’s all an illusion. Just try to connect the random dots of life into a picture. Just try to connect the dots of life. You’ll end up with a lunatic scribble.

But author Billingsley arrays the dots in a very interesting pattern and then helps the reader connect them into a fine picture for the reader to admire. The strange creatures of the swamp and the invented language are wonderful but it is Briony’s voice and personality that really make this story shine. Rarely is a hero so self-deprecating, so self-punishing and yet so endearing (even Eldric comes to think so in some smoldering scenes)…and there’s another point…is Briony a hero or a villain? I do not want to give too much away…secrets unfold and misleading events are put into perspective, and that is part of the fun. I’d rather you just preorder the book NOW and drop everything to start reading when you get it on St. Patrick’s Day.

And Lynn, I say we each add our respective stars to the tally…so that makes it 8 stars for Chime.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

5 Comments on "Chime by Frannie Billingsley"

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  1. Oh, I’ve been hearing great things about this! Thank you so much for writing about it. I’m curious about the age group you think it’s best for. Middle school 7th and 8th graders? High schoolers, older YA?

  2. I bought it for both of our middle schools and plan to booktalk it with 8th grade but will share it with 7th graders who are comfortable with books like this. High Schools should be ordering this TODAY if they haven’t already.–Cindy

  3. Yay, thanks so much! I’m looking forward to it –

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