Book Talk: CHIME by Franny Billingsley

We hope some of you had a chance to read CHIME since we announced our Book Talk about a month ago. CHIME has received six starred reviews and has garnered a lot of praise around the web. The story follows Briony, a young woman living at the start of the twentieth century in Swampsea, where the swamp is being drained to make way for train tracks–and the monsters who lurk in the mud are angry about losing their home. In order to save her twin sister from a curse brought down by the Boggy Mun, Briony must stop the swamp from being drained, all while balancing her self-hatred and her new-found love for a boy who has just come to town.

Today, Joni Sensel and Parker Peevyhouse chat about the book. We hope you’ll comment with your own opinions on some of these topics. We’d love to hear what you thought of CHIME.

Joni Sensel: So, let’s talk about CHIME! I haven’t read it yet, but I’m intrigued by the swamp setting. Is it used well?

Parker Peevyhouse: Yeah, the swamp was COOL. The setting was fab. I loved the swamp, and all the creatures were varied and wondrous.

Joni: What’s the main character like?

Parker: Briony. She was really into hating herself — she took it to a new level. Okay, well, not Black Swan level. But high up there. When she was young, she used her “witchy” powers to knock her twin sister, Rose, off a swing. Rose hit her head and suffered some kind of brain damage. She’s since been rather off–but Rose is a wonderful character. I loved her. She has a great way of talking, very blunt, and always, “I don’t prefer to do this or that.”

Joni: That’s an interesting twin contrast — like one “good” personality and one bad in two bodies?

Parker: Well, Rose isn’t exactly “good.” She’s rather rude and always runs off. They’re both pretty mischievous. But it was hard for me to love Briony or connect with her, although I found her sense of humor sharp and creative.

Joni: How important do you think that kind of connection is for enjoying a book?

Parker: For me, it’s key. I liked the setting of CHIME, I liked a lot of the characters, and I liked the magic, but Briony wouldn’t let me get close. She has this STRANGE way of talking, of narrating. At one point she’s looking for Rose, is desperate to find her in the swamp and wants Rose to call out to her. She says, “Jab your scream into my ear squish.” I honestly don’t understand why Briony talked the way she did.

I thought maybe Briony is just so crazy with self-hatred that she can’t quite keep a hold on her sanity, but it’s hard to say. Briony is just an unusual girl, I suppose, and I like unusual, but there’s a fine line between unusual and un-relatable. I love to read an unusual book, I really do, but it’s got to have an anchor in that main character. This isn’t to say that Briony is categorically unlovable. I think her relatability will vary from reader to reader.

Joni: Was that kind of language something that took you out of the story?

Parker: I didn’t like most of the language, to be honest. There were some lovely bits swimming around in all these strange bits, some really beautiful descriptions. Briony kept saying that Eldric’s eyes were “switch-on eyes,” alluding to the electricity that is new to the time period of the story. I loved that.

Who’s to say what’s lovely and what’s strange? But a lot of it was a little too strange for me.

Joni: I understand the book has a romance. Was that satisfying?

Parker: The romance was wonderful. Many of the love interests of YA fantasy are brooding boys whom the main character finds instantly, irresistibly attractive. In contrast, Eldric is a somewhat ordinary young man whose relationship with Briony builds very slowly. (I suspect too slowly for some, but not for me.)

I was relieved to find that the author didn’t give Briony this “lust at first sight/soul mate” guy. Eldric was a nice guy with a great sense of humor, and he was really kind to Rose, Briony’s sister. And he and Briony played off each other well. The interchange of dialogue between the two was one of the book’s best aspects.

Joni: Kind of a “guy next door?”

Parker: A “Guy From the Big City Could Fit Right In With Us Swamp Folk.” He moves into town, they plan to share a tutor, so it makes sense that they fall for each other–they’re always around each other, and they get along well. Eldric has this great habit of toying with little novelties, like paperclips. Briony comes to appreciate that about him.

They really become friends first, which I like, even if it’s not as exciting as something like him hungering for her blood or her organs or whatever you see in other romances.

Joni: I just noticed the sisters’ names: Rose and Briony, like Rose and Briar. Is there a noticeable fairy tale underpinning in the book?

Parker: The author really points out that Rose and Briony both have flower names, but that Briony is a poisonous plant. The magical creatures play up that fairy tale aspect, too. There are witches — flying-naked-on-a-broom witches — very folksy.

Joni: Awesome!

Parker: There are also creatures like brownies, mud-things, and most importantly, the Chime Child. The Chime Child is a person born at midnight with connections to both the magical world and the real world. The story takes place early in the twentieth century, in a place where people still accuse young women of witchcraft and then hang them to see if they’ll burst into flames (if they don’t–oops! they were innocent after all). Because the Chime Child can see and interact with magical beings, she has an important role to play.

I think the title, CHIME, tells you that there’s going to be a lot about the play between the two worlds—magic and non-magic. Even Briony and her love interest, Eldric, follow this theme–she lives in a world where the Boggy Mun can infect children with swamp cough. He’s from a place where electricity and trains and paperclips are the norm.

Joni: It sounds very unusual. Not high concept. More complicated.

Parker: Yeah, it’s totally literary. Weird literary. My kind of book, usually!

Joni: Without spoilers, was the ending satisfying?

Parker: It’s hard to say, because Briony ends up having all her problems solved for her, but in a legitimate way. It works with the rules of the story world, and I was relieved to find an answer to her dilemma, but since I saw that answer coming, I didn’t get that last minute feeling of “Phew!” More like, oh good, that’s tidy.

Lots of secrets are revealed at the end, but there are quite a lot of clues all along the way. Some I picked up on, some I didn’t. Still, I never really believed Briony was in danger because there were hints that her dilemma could be worked out in the end.

Joni: Overall, it sounds like you’d recommend CHIME?

Parker: There is a lot to love, but it’s certainly different. I’d say read it, but don’t hate me if you don’t like it!

Joni: Ha ha! I won’t. Is there anything else you’d like to mention about it?

Parker: There are some lovely turns of phrase, and you know, it really is very fairy tale-ish: a stepmother, an emotionally absent father, deals made with dark creatures… What more can you ask for?

Joni: Not too much! Thanks, Parker. You’ve definitely piqued my interest in CHIME!

What did you think about CHIME? Were you able to connect with Briony and her experiences? How do you feel about her relationship with Eldric? What comments do you have about the setting? Did the ending meet your expectations?

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Filed under Joni Sensel, Parker Peevyhouse

3 responses to “Book Talk: CHIME by Franny Billingsley

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    I finished Chime a few weeks ago. I agree with a lot of what Parker said. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t one of those can’t put it down books. It took me longer to get through. I did enjoy the romance and was glad that it was slower moving.

  2. Pingback: Review: Chime, by Franny Billingsley (Mar. 2011)

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