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Book Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley

This dark fantasy world will pull in all readers looking for something new. Watching the struggles of self-depreciating Briony Larkin becomes a worthwhile twist on fairy tales.

TEACHER REVIEW | by Julie Reyers

National Book Award finalist, Franny Billingsley, has crafted a bewitching little tale in Chime. The protagonist, Briony Larkin, is not immediately likable; however, she grows on the reader, in spite of her persistent self-loathing. Her mother died giving birth to Briony and her twin, Rose, and her stepmother’s recent death remains shrouded in mystery. A non-communicative father, soul-sucking swamp creatures and the threat of execution give Briony plenty to worry about. Fortunately, Briony’s budding romance with a golden-haired Londoner, Eldrich, gives Briony hope for normalcy (thus rescuing the reader from despondency).

Although Briony’s greatest desire is to be a “feminina regularitatis,” the town of Swampsea is far from typical. The untimely deaths of several of its residents keep the plot moving, while “swamp cough,” arsenic poisoning, and the gallows all claim victims. The fantastical setting includes a menagerie of fairy tale creatures: Witches, Old Ones, Brownies and a Chime Child, who has “a foot in each world.” Briony’s search for herself leaves her feeling “porous,” absorbing all the possibilities of who she might become. At one extreme, she is a tough, self-proclaimed “wolfgirl,” while at the other, she is a “paper doll” cut from moonlight.

Billingsley’s references to poetry and children’s nursery rhymes provide an interesting auditory element. The childish nature of the lyrics, when combined with the eerie Swampsea setting, create a chilling effect. Allusions to “Comin’ thro’ the Rye,” by Robert Burns, and “This is the House that Jack Built” create a nostalgic, recursive spiraling to a time gone by, when monsters lurked under the bed. The author sets her off-beat descriptions to whimsical rhythms, reminiscent of Roald Dahl: “Hurrah for the smell of gravy, all blood and butter and yum; Hurrah for the smell of pork, all sizzle and dark and chomp; Hurrah for a snickly boy, all round and grubby and snug.”

Billingsley’s characters are lured into bogs, attacked by Mucky Face and pestered by Brownies. At times, the descriptive language is a bit oppressive, but Billingsley’s inventive, connect-the-dots approach to storytelling rewards the patient reader. Chime is recommended for those who find themselves craving a different type of fairy tale.

Julie Reyers is an English Faculty and Adolescent Guide at The Montessori High School at University Circle, Cleveland, Ohio.

TEEN REVIEW | by Kalie Jane Vitek 

Chime, by Franny Billingsley, is about a girl named Briony Larkin, who is undoubtedly sure she is a wicked person. Thanks to her stepmother, Briony feels she is responsible for all of her family’s sufferings. Her guilt has hung over her for so long that hating herself is just another part of her daily routine.

Briony tries to escape her feelings by going on adventures in the swamp and writing stories about the Old Ones, the spirits of the swamp, whom she encounters there. But, only witches can see the Old Ones, and in Briony’s hometown of the Swampsea, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in constant fear that her secret will be discovered, even though she believes she deserves the worst punishment for her wickedness.

Then, Eldric Clayborne comes along with his golden lion eyes and treats Briony like she is special. From that point on, everything starts to change in Briony’s life. The secrets she had kept are revealed, and the secrets she never knew come forth from the shadows.

When I first began reading Chime, I was not sure if I was going to like it because Briony’s attitude was very negative and self-deprecating. She claimed not to be a regular girl and believed she should be hanged for hurting her family. The author’s style made me feel disheartened at Briony’s hatred for herself. “A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart,” Briony said, but I did not believe that to be true as I read about how Briony cared for her disabled sister.

I was relieved when Eldric came into her life and started treating her like she unknowingly longed to be treated. Her gloomy attitude transformed into something softer and more vulnerable. Eldric’s companionship led her to believe that she was not as wicked as she had trained herself to believe. Briony’s inner compassion began to shine through her resilient outer layer as she attempted to save her sister from the dreaded Swamp Cough, struggled with her feelings for Eldric and desperately tried to keep her gift of communicating with the Old Ones a secret. It was then that I began to sympathize with Briony and hoped that she would have a happy ending.

In Chime, Briony learns that life can be much less daunting and lonely if you allow someone you trust to take care of you and help guide you through your hardships. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a thrilling, magical story of overcoming mental and emotional obstacles.

Kali Jane Vitek is a Junior at The Montessori High School at University Circle, Cleveland Ohio.

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