Let me just begin by saying that I'm one of the most indecisive people you’ll ever meet. (At least I think I am…?) This, combined with my overall ambivalent feelings towards both of these novels, made this a difficult choice.
The feeling of being stuck in limbo was fitting for the first of the two I read - Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. Alternating narratives tell the story of Cullen, a high school senior stuck in a small town whose family is unraveling after the mysterious disappearance of his brother, and Benton, another young man who is stuck in life and looking for purpose. These narratives converge, as expected, but not in the way I would have expected.
Parts of this novel were certainly compelling, and it kept me up reading past my bedtime on more than one occasion. It does have its flaws, however. All the female characters are pretty one note, and a weak note at that. Cullen’s narration often breaks off into fantasies, typically involving zombies, that I found to be distancing. I eventually started skimming through these sections. The final chapters were riveting, but some readers will definitely find the ending unsatisfactory. And by that I mean that I found the ending unsatisfactory, but am hesitant to portray myself as a simpleton concerned with such plebeian concerns as tidy endings.
Chime, by Franny Billingsley, is narrated by Briony Larkin, a young woman who lives in Swampsea, a (fictional) community not far from early 20th-century London. Briony is completely preoccupied with keeping the promises she made to her recently murdered stepmother - to take care of her sister and to conceal the fact that she is a witch. Then a new boy moves to Swampsea, which (surprise surprise) complicates everything.
Being a witch, Briony can see and talk to all manner supernatural creatures, like Old Ones, Mucky Face, Boggy Mun, Brownie, which the reader is introduced to without any explanation or back story. No small amount of patience was needed in order to keep reading to figure things out. Chime was quite beautifully written in parts, but at times I felt like this writing came at the expense of the plot’s clarity. There were some awkward jumps in the chronology, and Briony’s incessant self-flagellation also got old very quickly. (We get it. You hate yourself. Please don’t remind us agai-… Never mind, you just reminded us again.)
While ultimately I think Chime had more inventive ideas and some gorgeous prose, I also think it would have much more of a limited “niche” readership. Where Things Come Back has more to offer for more readers. That, combined with my need to discuss the ending with someone, means that Where Things Come Back is moving forward.