Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April Secret Agent Contest #28

TITLE: Smart Chick
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I am behind the McDonald's dumpster on Fourth Street inhaling my second Big Mac of the day. I'm wondering if I'll need a third before the day is over. Every time I think about it, all I want to do is eat another Big Mac.

"We can't pay for college, Libby." Six little words. I've had my life perfectly planned out since the summer before sixth grade.

1. Straight A's

2. Valedictorian

3. Yale

So the economy takes a dump, my dad loses his job, my college savings goes towards paying for the mortgage and avoiding foreclosure.

Boom. World, disrupted.

Libby, we can't pay for college.

In other words, if I want to reach goal number 3, I'm on my own. At first I thought, meh, I'm going to be the valedictorian. Of course I can get into Yale. I've got a 4.0! But then I read the admission guidelines.

Well rounded students. Volunteer work. A plethora of afterschool activities.

Well wasn't that just the kiss of death. I'm not well-rounded. I do one thing and I do it really well.

School. That's it.

I wipe the secret sauce from my chin, hop back on my Schwinn and pedal towards home. I keep my head down and try not to think about it anymore. Even though my gut is already aching for another Big Mac.


  1. I was intrigued by the first line. The idea that she eats Big Macs when she's stressed, and they she hides behind a dumpster when she does it is funny.

    I liked the introduction of her problem, no money for college, and her voice.

    Where it fell apart for me a little is her issue with Yale. She says she can't go to Yale because they can't afford it.

    Then she switches to getting into Yale, which is a totally separate issue. She says she doesn't fit the admission guidelines. This has nothing to do with her parents not being able to pay.

    If her concern is qualifying for a scholarship then you need to make that clear, because as it is, her parents' financial issue has nothing to do with her not going to Yale because she can't get in anyway.

  2. I like this. I like the voice. But I agree with Valerie --she should be able to get in to Yale, but maybe not get a scholarship. Could you clarify that? Nice job though. It gives me a stomach ache just thinking about all those Big Mac's.

  3. Love it. As others said, change the admission guidelines to "scholarship application guidelines" and you're golden.

  4. I like the start of this. You narrate very well and you allow the reader to get into libbys head.

    I would read more.

  5. Nice start! I think the voice is well captured. I get a good sense of Libby's goals and tribulations...and self-doubt.

    Multiple big macs? Hmmm...I can't imagine biking home after that, LOL!

  6. I'm with Valerie: I get if the MC is upset that her parents can't pay for college, but that's a completely separate issue to the fact that she doesn't have the qualifications to get into Yale.

    I did love your intro paragraph (although I instantly thought she had issues with food from it)--great voice and character-building.

    Good luck!

  7. Question: Yale awards need-based financial aid, right? So if her parents couldn't afford it and she was good enough to go there, the college would certainly help her foot the bill.

    The situation didn't really make any sense to me, because of that -- I think you need to make it clear why the money issue affects her going to college, regardless of financial aid programs (granted, some people may not know this...I'm a high school senior, though, haha).

    Secondly, I seriously don't believe that anyone who had "planned" to go to Yale since the sixth grade and is smart, wouldn't bother looking up the criteria for entry prior to senior year (guessing, because of the whole valedictorian thing -- but I'm Aussie, so I don't really get that anyway). She would have known, if this was her life plan, that she needed to participate in school life and be well-rounded etc.

    I also have yet to meet anyone who hasn't taken part in a single after school activity (maybe my high school's weird, though), so that also struck me as unbelievable, too.

    Like others, I thought the Big Mac thing was cute. But I just didn't buy the rest after that initial first paragraph.

  8. Piggy backing off the last entry, perhaps a problem with food might not be so bad. If that were the case, it'd be better if her 'I'm not well rounded' became more about being 'well rounded' in the physical sense. Don't ask me why I wrote that.

    The voice is strong and hiding behind a dumpster or somewhere else that's secret reads true for many YA readers. The solid hook plays into the character's problems. There's enough sense of who she is that moving forward seems easy.

    Good luck.

  9. I really love this. Great voice and great set up. I'd definitely read more.

  10. Ditto - what everyone else said. Intriguing, but slightly uneven, and hard to swallow that a character this driven wouldn't have figured out what it took to get into Yale when she first decided on it. Or that she wouldn't have figured out financial aid or loans. (And the dumpster first made me think she was getting the Big Macs out of the dumpster, as in, old ones that had been thrown out.)

  11. I thought you created an interesting character with a great voice, and the writing is good.

    But, as others have said, the situation presented isn't believable. And I, also, thought she was picking the Big Mac's from the dumpster. A simple revision could make this work.

  12. Definitely intrigued by the opening. The voice is very clear and interesting. I assume she was hoping she'd get a full ride to Yale, otherwise what would be the point of worrying about it if she can't afford it?

    Again - really like the voice!

  13. Don't kids have to do some kind of community work to graduate HS nowadays? Or is that only in California?

    And wouldn't her school counselor guide her, tell her she needs to be more well-rounded, join clubs, etc.?

    I guess I'm saying I don't believe the circumstances. They seem a bit contrived. To me.

    But you have a nice voice, so keep working at it.

  14. Question: What is different about your character that sets her apart from all the other teenagers in this situation or worse? Her stress eating (possible dumpster diving) tendancies are intriguing. Are the Big Macs significant? I am drawn to the voice and this girl but am not hooked. Raise the stakes, turn up the heat and I think you'll be onto something. Good luck!

  15. I like your MC's voice, and I like that she relieves her stress by sneak-eating Big Macs. But: if attending Yale has been her goal since 6th grade, wouldn't she have known their volunteer/extra-curricular requirements years ago? It should not have come as a surprise. It's an easy problem to fix with a few word-changes, but the way it is now was enough to give me pause. Still, I like it enough that I'd keep reading if we were able. Nicely done.

  16. I really like the voice. Lots.

    I am a bit perplexed if this is a poverty story, a food-issue story, or a 'nerd needs to get more well-rounded' story... or something totally different... but I would definitely read on to find out.

  17. As someone who decided to go to Yale in seventh grade, but didn't look at any college application criteria until it was time to apply for college, I understand her situation. I also understand that teens dramatize things in their heads and make bigger deals of them than adults do. So I don't have as much problem with the potential plot set-up as others do. Especially as now you have some feedback to help you sharpen things up.

    I like this. I like her voice and where we first meet her and that she sneaks Big Macs (I snuck Fruit Loops). Keep at it and you could have something amazing!

  18. I'm hooked. Interesting voice--great flow and conflict right from the first words.