Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September Secret Agent #5

GENRE: MG Adventure

Slumping deeper into The Forum Coffee Emporium’s squishiest armchair, I imagined a number of gruesome and excruciating deaths for myself. It wasn’t hard to do. I could almost smell hopelessness in the air, mingling with the scent of coffee beans, brownies, and baklava bars. Tomorrow I would leave behind four-hundred and fifty-three days of perfect attendance at Winston Prep, one undefeated debate club record, eight stuffed animals, and zero friends to possibly be torn apart by the most terrifying, murderous animal in the continent of Africa.

My eyes focused on a photograph of the savage beast. Raw gums glistened with saliva, and three ropes of drool tangled in the air while it charged. I’d torn it from a magazine in hopes of brainstorming possible defense techniques. None came to mind.

“Tripplehorn Parker, you sure drink a lot of coffee for an eleven-year-old girl,” said a warm voice. “That can’t be good for you. Aren’t you British genius types supposed to be tea drinkers?”

Oh wonderful, shaggy-haired Benjamin of the coffee shop, I thought, taking comfort in the perfect mole above his lips. How I’ll miss you, especially if I die.

“I’ve adapted to your American ways,” I told him. “And you know it’s decaf. And you know I’m twelve. And this,” I pointed to the photo, “is something you don’t know. This fellow is about to become my closest acquaintance.”

Benjamin bent and winced. “Ouch. Hippos, huh. How long will you be gone?”

“Too long.” Five years, to be exact.


  1. I liked the situation you've set up - boy genius going off to Africa. It could make for a really cool story, but there was just something about the voice. I didn't buy it. It doesn't feel like a 12 year old genius boy to me. It feels like an adult woman's. That's the only thing that would keep me from reading more. The MC just doesn't feel like a kid to me. And that could be just me.

    Maybe work some kid stuff in there. Let's see one of the gruesome deaths he imagines. Maybe his coffee is practically all milk and sugar. Maybe he sticks his spoon to his nose. Just because he's smart doesn't mean he won't act like a kid. Intelligence and maturity are two different things.

    A nit - it should be 'on' the continent of Africa, rather than 'in.'

  2. Barbara--according to Benjamin, she's a British GIRL-genius. :) Not a boy.

    The first few paragraphs did have me thinking it should be YA instead of MG--the coffee shop, no obvious parental figures, the voice, all sounded much too old for MG.

    Still. I love the voice, I love the set-up, and I would absolutely love to keep reading. A few age-accurate behaviors should lower the age a bit.

  3. I really like the premise of this, but it doesn't read to me as MG, even if she is supposed to be a genius.

  4. I love it. The MCs voice is loud and clear, as is her conflict. This leaves us with loads of questions (a good thing) and a sense of where the book is going.

    I agree with others that perhaps this is YA.

    Good luck!

  5. I do like the voice, but it seems too mature to be MG.

  6. Well, I certainly missed that she was a girl, didn't I. (Hanging head in shame)

    But she does seem older than MG.

  7. Well, she's the type of MG age kid I'd like!

    The debate club record does seem a bit older than MG, but the rest of it fits in a quirky way that I enjoyed.

    I read her as a girl although the name gave me pause.

    Overall - definitely hooked and would love to read more. I'm seriously hoping I run into this some day.

  8. I liked this. The premise is very different. The coffee shop setting is unusual for middle grade, but that can work. Although your MC seems mature, I could believe that's she's 12. I'm not sure I like how flip she seems to be about the possiblity of dying on her trip but I would read on to see why she feels this way. I loved the last line. Great start. I want to turn the page. :)

  9. I'd definitely read on.

    The voice actually seems MG to me, or at least a little less YA than the YA I'm typically reading. Then again, perhaps I'm automatically integrating the genius into her voice.

    By the way, I really love her internal address to Benjamin, which really solidified her youth to me.

    I agree that having her actually imagine one of the deaths (a sentence, really, is all you need) might hook more (maybe replace what's currently the second sentence?).

    Again, I'm interested. I'd read on.

  10. Nice beginning, but I agree about the voice. It seems to be at the upper end of MG leaning toward YA.

    I like the way you set up the dangerous animal, and then it's a hippo. Everybody thinks hippos are slow and cuddly but fact is more people die through hippo attacks than through lions or any other well known predator.

    There is a colon missing in this sentence: ...and zero friends(,) to possibly be torn apart... (or we'd think the friends would be torn apart)

  11. Thanks for all of the comments! It's upper MG and the character is a bit precocious (raised on the campus of Cambridge, then Yale) and likes to think she fits in with the older kids :) Much of that is knocked out of her when she gets to the African bush, but I can see I need to tone it down here. Thanks!

  12. I actually thought the voice worked, especially considering she's a girl genius. (Made me thing Millicent Min, Girl Genius).

    I did get a little confused about the deaths at the beginning. At first I was thinking suicide (since she was imagining deaths for herself), and I agree about the punctuation after "friends" in that first paragraph.

    But once I figured it out, I really enjoyed the rest. Would love to read more!

  13. Before you change too much about it, I LOVE IT. It's so quirky and fun; there are some great twists and turns even in just a few pages; you've created such a vivid character in only a few lines; I think this is just FANTASTIC.

  14. P.S. Sorry, not a few pages, a few paragraphs.

  15. Just wanted to say that I loved this. Funny and original, great voice.

    My only suggestion would be to replace 'The Forum Coffee Emporium' with 'cafe' or a shorter name, I doubt it's that important and it clutters up your first sentence.

  16. I liked it...even though she does sound really mature. That doesn't bother me too much since she's supposed to be some type of genius, but I hope I get to see her at least have some immature actions to show her age. :)

    Good job!

  17. I also really loved this--it was my favorite of all the MG entries in this contest. Two tiny quibbles: I agree with Girl Friday about shortening the name of the coffee shop to improve the flow of the first sentence, and the phrase "a warm voice" made me think that the speaker was a woman--probably a middle-aged, southern one. Otherwise, I think it's perfect and am dying to read more!