Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Middle Grade Are You Hooked? #5

TITLE: Left and Right

My legs are wet where the chicken noodle soup has soaked into my pants and the lumps of green jello sliding down my shirt feel cold and gross against my skin.

"Kick him!" On my right, Mari's whispered voice is quick with excitement.

Jack is laughing. I have to wait this out. Lunch will be over soon, my pants will dry when I'm at my desk and I can shake jello from my shirt during Math. I try to swallow, but my throat hurts too much, and then I think of Kaitlin. I don't mean to think about her, but when I imagine what she'd say if she saw me cowering on the floor, I feel guilty, so I look up. Jack rolls his eyes back until just the white is showing and thumps one hand against his chest.

"Can't speak anymore after the lobotomy, re-re-retaaard?" With his tongue hanging out of his mouth, his words are slurred. Everyone thinks it's hilarious.

"Just kick him, Alexander!" She's almost shouting, but no one else hears Mari, so I can't look at her just now.

"Retard! Retard!" Jack and his friends are chanting, then Jack gets louder. "Here's the wind-up and... and it's a fastball, ladies and gentlemen!"

It's just a sandwich, but it sprays everywhere. Peanut butter. A gob of purple peels off my face and lands on the back of my hand. Peanut butter with grape jelly.


  1. I think the writing of this is very good, nicely paced, good voice. My problem is that the situation, a kid getting picked on by a bully, seems so familiar, so often used, that it's hard to overcome that and make it interesting. The most intriguing thing seems to be that no one else can hear Mari. I want to know why. Maybe if you trim down the details of the attack and get right to that intriguing element, it would hook me better.

  2. I'd definitely read on to figure out just why Jack and his friends are picking on Alexander and why no one else can see or hear Mari. I also have to read on to make sure Jack gets what's coming to him! Mari and Alex's relationship is really the hook here so hopefully that's addressed sooner than later. Good work!

  3. The invisible, unheard Mari is what I find intriguing here, but I do wonder if it's a bit too subtle. Maybe add a small clue as to why she can't be seen or heard.

    In the opening, you might start with the jello dripping down his shirt instead of saying his legs are wet. It brought visions of shorts and swimming. Or you could turn the sentence around and say chicken soup soaked the legs of my pants just so we're immediately in the situation you've created.

    I did get the impression they were in a school cafeteria because of the food, and I wondered how this could happen without a teacher taking notice, but maybe a teacher breaks it up a little later, or maybe they're not in school.

    And I thought your MC could have been a bit more emotional. He seems to be taking it all matter-of-factly, and that's what would stop me from reading more. He needs to react in some way, even if it's just throwing his arms up over his face to protect himself. He has to do something besides report what's happening.

  4. I would probably read on but only if something hooked me right after this. I'm interested to know who Kaitlin is, and why no one can hear Mari. Personally, I don't really like the typical kid-being-bullied thing but as long as something interesting happened right after I'd keep reading.

  5. This was the first to catch my attention after liking #1. I know some might say these are not groundbreaking events to write about, but this is a universal situation every kid can relate to. If they haven't been bullied, they've either bullied or watched someone being bullied. I like the voice here. I didn't have to start over. I was right in the story ready for more.

  6. I love this! It's well written and I'm definitely hooked! :-)

  7. Thanks for your comments everyone!

    ...though I find it a little disconcerting that no one noticed why Alexander's getting picked on:

    "Can't speak anymore after the lobotomy, re-re-retaaard?"

    ...but I guess that means I need to make that more obvious, right? So that's very helpful :)

    Spot on, Barbara! A normal kid would be acting more emotional and protecting himself :) Alexander can't speak due to a recent, incredibly traumatic experience... so he isn't a normal kid :)