Tuesday, December 06, 2011


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Chime, Franny Billingsley, Dial Books, 2011, 361 pp

This YA novel is the book that got all that backlash attention during the lead up to the 2011 National Book Awards. Through an error never fully explained, Shine by Lauren Myracle was announced on NPR as a finalist for the Young Adult category, though by the following day it turned out that the judges had actually chosen Chime. Despite all the upset, Chime did not win the award but was beaten out by Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones.

I have not read either of the other two books, but ever since I read The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley, I was hoping she would win for Chime.

Briony is a 14 year old girl who believes she is a witch. She lives with her twin sister Rose and her father, a widowed minister, in an imaginary English village. In Briony's times, witches are hanged. If Briony tells anyone she will be hanged but if she does not tell, she fears herself as a danger to those around her.

The brilliance of Billingsley's tale lies in double layers. One layer illustrates through the voice of Briony how children can develop a false picture of who they are as they try to make sense of the adult lives around them. Briony's mother died giving birth to the twins and they were raised by a complicated stepmother. The second layer is a drawn out reveal, a mystery in which we learn what actually happened to Briony, Rose and their father.

So much goes on that any attempt to explain would be full of spoilers. Eldric, a young man who awakens love and self-awareness in Briony; Rose, who is "odd" in some emotional but gifted way; the superstitious beliefs of the villagers; and some highly supernatural beings all combine to create the atmosphere of Briony's life.

I love Billingsley's writing because she does not spell out anything but by hints and through multiple viewpoints, draws on the reader's imagination so strongly that I almost feel I am creating the story with her.

Chime is the sort of book you give to a strong reader with a healthy ability to suspend her disbelief and just say, "Read this!"

(Chime is available in hardcover, audio and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in your nearest indie bookstore click on the cover image above.)

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