Chime

Chime - Oh, Chime how I love thee! Somewhere in the countryside of early 20th century England (the time and place remain elusive) Briony Larkin believes she's a witch. She mentally handicapped her lovely twin Rose and injured her Stepmother, who has taught her the ways of the Old Ones who live in the nearby swamp and instructed her to guard her secret. Full of self-loathing, Briony tries to do good despite knowing she's wicked. Briony is one of the more unique protagonists I've read about in a while, and her voice shines throughout Chime. Billingsley writes from her perspective in the most beautiful and surprising prose. Her descriptions are unexpected but wonderful; for example, when Briony admits she feels sexual urges she says, it would be assumed that a young lady had no such impulses at all, but I'll tell you something: Chocolate melts on my tongue too. I never would have thought to describe it like that, but it's just so right. I can feel the meaning; it's palpable. Briony is clever, funny, and loyal, but she is very flawed due to her witchy past. Reading in her voice the entire novel is a treat because we closely witness her gradual improvement.In addition to Briony's awesomeness, we have Eldric, who I should be ashamed for not mentioning yet. Eldric is, of course, the self- proclaimed bad boy who serves as a love interest for our heroine. Parting from the tradition of YA bad boys and lovers, however, Eldric is actually sweet, kind, and non-misogynistic. He plays with local kids, speaks horrible Latin, teaches Briony to box, and charms Rose, Briony's lovely disabled sister, making him an easy favorite for my most swoonworthy YA boy in 2012. There is no insta-love here, and the friendship between Briony and Eldric is pure fun. When the romance develops, it does so with hardship, for Briony is damaged and feels unworthy of love. At first I struggled with this aspect of Chime; Briony needs and wants to be taken care of like a child by Eldric. I find this to bring up an interesting question I struggle with in literature and real life: if a woman wants to be strong and independent, is it okay for her to be taken care of and, more importantly, to want to be taken care by a man? It seems a bit anti-feminist, but I found Briony's answer to this question acceptable after some thought. She takes care of Eldric as well, and she only desires Eldric's care due to extenuating circumstances from her past. My only complaint about the novel concerns its plot. Much of the plot involves the gradual unfolding of Briony's mysterious past; however, the truth of her past was obvious to me and I guessed most of what happened way before it was revealed. It is for this reason that I deducted one star from my rating. A bit more plot complexity, and Chime would have been a new all-time favorite. My foreknowledge did not ruin my overall enjoyment of the book, considering I still loved the romance, original voice and atmospheric setting. What I appreciated most, though, was the trajectory of Briony's character throughout the novel. At its core, Chime is about recovery from childhood trauma and finding a way to move forward in adulthood. This journey encapsulates the entire novel, coming to fruition in the final, beautiful paragraph. I love it so much, I'm putting it in a spoiler tag below, because I think it represents everything I loved about this book. We walk to the motorcar. I step on the running board, but he catches at me. "I love you."Word magic. If you say a word, it leaps out and becomes the truth. I love you. I believe it. I believe I am loveable. How can something as fragile as a word build a whole world?