Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chime, by Franny Billingsley - SPOILERS

One of the things I really love about having bought an e-reader is that my public library does e-book loans: I don't have to pack the baby and all his infrastructure to schlep downtown to get new books to read. I can just get them online - ones from publishers who are willing to do library e-book loans, anyway. (Get with the program, recalcitrant publishers. Your problem is not getting me to buy books - it is getting me to buy your books. Libraries help me decide who gets my book budget.)

Chime is one of the books I read a good review of, but its Kindle sample didn't wow me enough to overcome my most recent resolution to hit the library more instead of impulse buying. (A resolution inspired by the purchase of a book I turned out to really not like: I could have spent that money on a good book. Rage!) Chime did look interesting enough to check out, though.

Overall, I liked it: it's the story of Briony, a girl who lives in a swamp full of enchanted creatures, with a mentally challenged sister who needs a great deal of care. Briony hates her life; she hates her sister; she hates herself.

Unfortunately, both the thing I liked best about this book, and the thing that I liked least, are medium-sized spoilers. So this is a spoiler post. Sorry.

What I liked best was that it's really a story of the aftermath: this is what happens to the beautiful daughters after the evil stepmother has been defeated. I read Among Others last year, which was blurbed as that kind of story, but it didn't live up to it, for me - the main character's life after defeating her villainous mother was mostly disconnected from that conflict; you never even find out what the villainous mother's evil plan was. (Unless I missed it. But come on, if you can miss that, something's wrong.)

Chime did aftermaths much better. Briony narrates, and tells you how good her stepmother was to her, how much she loved her, Stepmother this, Stepmother that, but Stepmother's dead, and it was not a suicide, she would never do that. You can tell Stepmother wasn't on the up and up, though Briony insists otherwise. Briony clearly has some Issues.

Over the course of the book, you watch Briony heal: she gradually obsesses less about taking care of Rose, letting other people help; she starts resuming old hobbies she'd abandoned; she starts making new friends and reconnecting with old ones; she stops hating herself for failing to constantly hate herself. What she's consciously concerned with is another problem entirely - the swamp is being drained, and its magical denizens are seriously not happy about that - but what's going on in the background, all this time, is Briony getting better.

What I liked least about the book is that, in the end, it turns out Briony has always known about Stepmother being evil, and about her defeat, but just... forgot? Blocked it out? Rewrote her own memories to protect herself? I didn't quite buy that part.

But I loved that the primary villain had already been defeated, all this time - but her evil works remained, poisoning the lives of her victims, and that this, too, needed resolved.

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