Chime by Franny Billingsley

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Bloomsbury, 2011. ISBN 9780747583813.
(Age 14+) Highly recommended. Briony blames herself for the troubles that beset her family. She has the face of an angel but believes that she is wicked and deserves to be hanged. She can talk to the Old Ones, but only witches can see them and witches are hanged in her village. With her stepmother dead, she must look after her strange twin sister Rose. When Eldric, a handsome blonde stranger, comes to visit the vicarage, things are turned upside down and she begins to find out things that have been secret for too long.
The words on the back cover of Chime describe the themes in this book perfectly: 'Briony witch Electric Eldric handsome stranger Midnight Flood Fire Poison Passion'. I became engrossed in Briony's story from the very first line: 'I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged'. Billingsley really built up the tension about whether Briony was a witch and would be hung and this kept me reading to the end in virtually one sitting.
The setting of a village in the early 20th century was quite fascinating. It seemed to be a parallel world that still believes in witchcraft and evil women who deserve to drown, but it could also have been a village so isolated from the world that beliefs haven't changed. With the advent of the motor car and the train line the modern world is encroaching, but old ways and customs are deeply embedded. And what is the role of the person who is called the Chime?
Exceptional dialogue and clever word building by Billingsley made this a standout novel. The humour and witty exchanges between Briony and Eldric gave me many a smiling moment and helped to alleviate the fear and angst that surrounded Briony. The wordplay also fleshed out the character traits of both Briony and Eldric so that you felt that you knew them really well. The pitfalls surrounding the romance between Briony and Eldric were also handled with a deft hand.
I loved this book and can recommend it highly. I will certainly seek out her earlier book, The folk keeper, which won the Notable Children's Book Award and the Boston-Globe Horn Book Award.
Pat Pledger