I’ve been a little MIA (thanks, reading- and writing-intensive college classes for eating up my pleasure reading time), but I’m back today with mini reviews of two books devoured over fall break! (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how fantastic both these covers are?)
The Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.
In the absence of both memory and writing is music.
In a world where the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphemy, all appears lost. But Simon Wythern, a young man who arrives in London seeking the truth about what really happened to his parents, discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.
A stunning literary debut by poet and violinist Anna Smaill, The Chimes is a startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that The Chimes is probably the most imaginative dystopian I’ve ever read (and maybe ever will read). The world of The Chimes is one that has been monumentally altered by a mysterious catastrophe, a world without solid memory or history, a world ruled by music and the mysterious order that enforces it. Even the very language of The Chimes is different than ours, slang consisting of musical terms slipped among familiar words to signal that nothing remains the same in this futuristic, dazed London. In terms of world-building, it’s truly a refreshing story, albeit one that takes some time to get into. When Simon, the main character, arrives in London with no memory of why he’s there, neither does the reader. While he stumbles through an eerie world where memory is wiped clean every evening, trying to puzzle together the truth, you’re just as much in the dark. Smaill’s language, however, wove an exquisite, inventive spell that kept me trapped, and the larger mystery pulled me onwards.
The first half is slow, strange, and lyrical. It felt like being plunged into an alien world as I was left to adjust and wonder how our world became the one between these pages. (I’m not gonna lie, the first half was a little tough to get into.) But then the second half arrived, unraveling conspiracies, providing some answers, and plummeting into some heart-stopping action and I found myself staying up until one in the morning to finish it. The Chimes may not be the easiest book to get into, but it’s worth it once the story sucks you in. (Also, the blurb doesn’t make it clear, but this book is gay!)
If you’re in the mood for a lush, unique dystopian that’s challenging yet rewarding, you probably can’t do better than The Chimes.
Diversity notes: Central M/M romance, blind love interest
Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.
She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.
Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.
I’ve been excited for This Time Will Be Different ever since I saw the gorgeous cover, and thankfully the inside lives up to the exterior. Sugiura’s sophomore novel is successful in so many different ways, from the authentic portrayal of teenage messiness to the many sensitive issues tackled without becoming preachy. This is the kind of book I want to hurl at people who claim that YA contemporary can’t be interesting or deep.
There’s a lot to praise about This Time Will Be Different, but one thing that stuck out to me is that it has one of the best depictions of modern teenagers in in a YA contemporary that I’ve read recently. They make mistakes, they fight with their parents, they hold grudges, and they question their place in the world and who they want to be. (And they even vape, which is the first time I’ve ever seen that in a YA contemporary?) While CJ wasn’t always a totally likable main character, I always felt for her as she struggled to define herself and her future.
Like the title implies, This Time Will Be Different deals a lot with legacy and history. There are very few YA fiction books about the internment of Japanese American, and I think this one might be the first I’ve ever heard of that deals with the ramifications today. There are nuanced, timely discussions about the legacy of oppression and teenage activism that helped this make this book a standout. In addition to the legacy of Japanese interment, This Time Will Be Different also discusses teen pregnancy, anti-Asian racism, complicated family dynamics, sexuality, and more without ever feeling overstuffed or preachy. The overall result is a nuanced, realistic YA contemporary that I hope everyone will pick up.
Diversity notes: ownvoices Japanese American main character, bisexual Japanse American love interest, Korean American lesbian major side character, side F/F romance, cast consists almost entirely of people of color (mostly Asian-Americans)