My friend Molly Templeton has always been an unabashed fan of sci-fi and fantasy, from her Tolkein-y Oregon childhood to her post-college years when she and I met and spent many Tuesday nights at her weekly Buffy viewing parties, back when the show was on the air and drinking wine by the box seemed mature. She’s also always been a staunch defender the YA genre (she runs the “YA Not?” Book Group at Word Brooklyn, where she works), and her recommended read, Chime, by Franny Billingsley, did indeed deliver.
I admit, I was a little pessimistic at first after it was revealed (not a spoiler alert) that the protagonist was secretly a witch. Granted, a young protagonist discovering a secret, magical side to themselves is fundamental Joseph Campbell stuff, but from the recent Beautiful Creatures assault to the repeat late night cable screenings of The Craft to, well, you name it (Sabrina The Teenaged Witch, The Crucible, all the Edward Eager books, anything by Edith Nesbit, goddamned Narnia, Teen motherfucking Witch, and I’m done), I’d become wary of teen girls forced to face whether they’d be wicked or good in a pointy hat way.
Wonderfully, Chime is not that kind of book, because our hero’s powers and their origins are far more ambiguous than your average plucky young conjurer. There’s a depth to this book beyond the romance and adolescent angst. Set in England a hundred years ago, magic becomes part of a metaphor, not just for the usual stuff like teenage alienation, but for the dangers of progress and technological innovation. The spirit world and the modern world are at odds with our protagonist trapped somewhere in between, and while the prose does have youthful touches, Chime never feels too young and won’t make you feel foolish for reading it (or ever doubting Molly).