Friday, August 5, 2011


17-year old Briony Larkin deserves to be hung. Or at least she thinks she does. Because Briony is a witch and that's what happens to witches circa 1900 New England. Since Briony and her witchy ways were responsible for her stepmother's death and an accident that left her younger sister Rose damaged forever, she hates herself. That is, until a land developer Mr. Clayborne comes to town with his handsome son Eldric. Briony has a difficult time keeping her feelings for Eldric in check when he gives her attention she's not used to. When Mr. Clayborne's plan to develop a portion of Briony's Swampsea village threatens the magical "Old Ones" who live in the swamp, Briony sets out to save the "Old Ones", her family, and risk unveiling the very secret that could cost her her life.

I really had no business reading this book. First, take a look at the cover. I could have gotten beat up by a number of my friends for carrying this book around toting a cover like that. Second, this book is squarely rooted in the Young Adult realm of children's literature. That's not my forte. But I really wanted to give this book a chance. Step outside of my comfort zone for a moment. Every year some interesting discussions are had surrounding Newbery eligible titles and whether or not they are "too old" for Newbery gold. I can never take part in these discussions because I don't read YA. After reading a review that compared CHIME to the work of Elizabeth George Speare, I thought it might be worth the risk.

It wasn't. Not really.

This book doesn't have a snowball's chance in you-know-where at winning any sort of Newbery honor. With curse words scattered throughout, and a rather lengthy, rather sexual, inner conversation about girls' underpants, this book is definitely material for the Prinz and not the Newbery.

However, with that fact aside, I did read it, so I will review it.

CHIME is good, but not great. Briony is one heck of a narrator. Her snarky, wit is fantastic. From the opening sentence ("I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.") her self-loathe is felt, but definitely not shared, by the reader.

The plot is mysterious and eerie (especially a scene involving . . . SPOILER . . . an innocent girl being hanged while a village watches and waits for her to turn to ashes, which she never does) and the writing is top-notch. Check out some of these samples:
  • "You may call me Briony," I said, "which makes it awfully convenient because so does everyone else."
  • Silence clawed at my throat. It left a taste of burnt matches.
  • The roof was slippery with moonlight.
  • His voice hadn't undergone it's morning ironing.
There are times, when reading a book though, it becomes apparent that a setting was obviously so fully realized in the mind of the author, but not executed as such on the page. This is one of those times, for me anyway. I had serious troubling picturing the swamp and got lost in the endless adjectives used to describe it. The one area of the book that had the potential to be uber-distinguished just fell flat for me.

I also had an issue with the revelations made in the ending. For a book that takes itself so seriously, with such brilliant language throughout, to end in such a predictable way was simply a letdown. There wasn't a twist I didn't see coming thanks to some heavy, heavy foreshadowing throughout.

My troubles with this novel may result from it being outside the typical age range of stories I prefer to read. Which if that's the case, my final grade may need to be digested with a grain of salt. Many folks in the YA world will undoubtedly love this (it did already receive a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award) and I'm sure many Twilight teens will devour it whole.

Final Grade: B

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