“I wish he’d help lay down new brain paths for me and scuff out the old… scuff out the old paths Stepmother stomped into existence paths of wickedness and guilt” (Chime by Franny Billingsley).
Though a rare occasion for this blog, I must admit that I don’t have one clear opinion of Chime. The plot plodded along with all-too-frequent repetitions of messages of self hate, the main character was so pointedly un-self-aware as to border on making the claims that she was clever an outright lie, and the writing was clunky and modern in a way that didn’t mesh with the desired time period. But, the romance between Briony and Elderic had real character, and the concluding message about loving one’s self rang true far beyond the confines of this one fantasy novel.
Briony’s self-esteem might have been robbed by a ‘dark muse’, an old one who lives on the artistic power of her prey, but others can have it taken away by peers, intimate relationships, or even by family members. In any case, this lack of self respect soon develops into a whole personality, a neurological rut that is difficult to escape from. Billingsley acknowledges both the rut, and the time and courage it takes to ‘stomp out new brain-paths’.
Billingsley also did a pretty good job with the development of romance for YA literature. Many YA books assume some sort of innate attraction between the protagonists, but Chime lets the romance between build up with a series of misdeeds, inside jokes, secret fraternities, and shared life lessons. By the end of the book, the reader can carefully detail how the relationship could have progressed to its inevitable conclusion and can actually list the reasons why Briony and Elderic might be compatible. I like how Billingsley treats teenage romance with the same respect that it can be treated in adult literature; she endows adolescents with the power to grow into a relationship slowly and playfully. So, although not a perfectly executed novel, I can easily see that it might have quite an impact on some readers; and for that reason, it deserves to be written about.