Friday, November 29, 2013

(35) YA Contemporary: JAWAHAR

GENRE: YA Contemporary

When Merritt Reed becomes the focus of her high school’s gossip, she feels like an island. Perhaps that’s what draws her to Hamza. Though everything about the dark-haired loner screams, “Go away,” she wonders if he’s hiding something. Especially when she hears his parents call him Amir, meaning prince in Arabic. Gradually Merritt falls for Hamza and the turmoil hidden deep in his green irises, but his secret could get them killed, or worse, grounded for eternity.

LATE might as well be a four-letter-word that gets your mouth doused with Tabasco sauce if your mom catches you saying it. That’s how much I hate being late, especially to school. I’m like the white rabbit, frantically glancing at his pocket watch, no time to give Alice decent directions. “No time to say hello/goodbye. I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”

Today is one of those four-letter-word days. I just woke up, heart galloping in my chest, head dizzy from catapulting out of bed to the buzzing of my younger sister’s alarm.

Eep! Forget the shower, cute hair, or outfit that was going to say I’m totally fine with my newly single status. Instead I grab the jeans I wore yesterday and snag the first top my fingers touch in my closet.

Here’s hoping my hair doesn’t look like Medusa’s snakes have partied in it.

I rush downstairs, struggling into the sleeves of my new spearmint-colored parka.

“Merritt, what are you still doing here?” my mom asks, eyes widening over the rim of her coffee mug. “I thought you’d taken the bus.”

“Forgot to set my alarm.” I grab a banana from the fruit holder. “Can you take me? I’m super late.”

“There’s a foot of snow outside. Do you really think I’d make you walk?”

“The way my morning is going, probably.”

She gives me a look that says I’m being way too dramatic about my life. Whatever.


  1. The opening line/paragraph on this one drew me in immediately. I really like this narrator. We get a lot from her without it feeling like a laundry list of details. And a good dose of her personality. I'm hooked.

    My one crit is that the logline feels like it could be tightened a bit.

    Best of luck with it!

  2. I like the voice of this. Sassy, but not snarky. I particularly liked the newly single status outfit.
    I really don't have too much to say. I guess you could cut the dialogue tag here: “Merritt, what are you still doing here?” my mom asks, eyes widening over the rim of her coffee mug. “I thought you’d taken the bus

    Because it's followed by the character's action.

    Good luck!

  3. I like MC's voice and suggest you play up her attraction to "Amir" and her newly single status and downplay her being late to school. (Waking up and getting ready for school gets written about a lot. If you keep this, make it really pop!)

    The logline is a bit lengthy but raises some intrigue.

    I like contemporary stories and am always looking for interesting characters with meaningful interaction as soon as possible.

    Good luck!

  4. A fun idea, and princes are always great teen material for romance and intrigue! I agree that the logline needs to be tightened up -- feels more like a synopsis than a pitch. But there's great stuff in it!

    I don't know if the white rabbit comes up again, or Alice, but I'm not sure you need the comparison -- I think her feelings about being late are clear in the first sentence, and in her following actions. But perhaps that's something you love and come back to.

    It's a fun beginning with action.

    Good luck!

  5. Interesting logline, however, the last sentence needs some clarification.

    I like the interaction between Merritt and her mother. There is definitely tension between them even if it's subtle in these paragraphs. Nicely done!

    My main concerns: I'm not sure what Merritt really wants, and I don't have a strong enough sense of where the story is going yet. Then again, it's only the first 250 words.

    Good luck!

  6. I have to confess I almost didn't read on after your logline - 'the turmoil hidden deep in his green irises' was just so cheesy, and it would've been much hookier if we'd known *why* she becomes the focus of gossip.

    But then... I'm so glad I did. Contemp isn't really my thing, but the voice here is just fantastic. Original, pacey and so much fun. Nice work!

  7. Since your first 250 are very strong and have great voice and personality, most of my critique is for the logline:

    I have to agree with Girl Friday about the "green irises" part of your logline. I also wonder about the "prince" thing — plenty of parents call their daughters "princess," so why would she suspect that prince is anything more? Also, maybe pick something more specific than "everything about the dark-haired loner" … the Jordan Catalano loner guy is a cliche love interest in YA, so you need to make Hamza stand out.

    For the 250:
    I love the "I'm totally fine with my newly single status" outfit. I was intrigued by the contrast between the panic of the MC over her lateness and her mom's calm "of course I'll drive you" response. (Nice establishing of opposing personalities.)
    Also, this may be explained later, but if Merritt so hates being late AND she wanted to dress to impress, I don't believe that she'd forget to set her alarm today of all days.

    Overall, great job!

  8. Other than the usual wake up and go to school opening, this seems pretty solid. Can you start it ANYWHERE else though?

  9. Hey, there!

    First, I agree with what a lot of people have already said. The strength here is in your MC's voice. It's distinct and it feels authentic to a high school girl today (at least some of them). Love the line about Medusa especially, which shows just how funny she is.

    I also agree that this opening scene feels a tad cliche. Waking up late to school is a little bit been-there-done-that. It might help if we know why she woke up late. Is it really because she didn't set her alarm? Or is it because she was too distracted by her recent break up to even care to set the alarm? I wonder if that's what you might be hinting at with the "newly single" line.

    There's also something that rubs me the wrong away about the last line: "She gives me a look that says I’m being way too dramatic about my life. Whatever." This seems too self-aware for the MC and then dismissive. It actually makes me like her a little less. How about showing the look her mom gives her? What if she rolled her eyes and we left it at that?

    I think the heart of the story lies in the relationship she'll eventually have with Hamza, but be careful of portraying him as an exotic Other. Is he really a prince? Or is he a classmate she hasn't noticed until now? And like others have said, the "green irises" is a bit much. Plus, the tone seems off between "killed" or "grounded for eternity." I get that you were going for humor, but I'm not sure that this is necessarily a comedy?

    Lots of good stuff here though! Keep writing, and good luck!

  10. If she hates being late so much it seems out of character for her not to set her alarm. If her punctuality is a recurring theme then the opening fits, but if not, it's too much with the Alice reference. You could start with something like, How could it be 7:30? Why didn't my alarm go off? Being late today wasn't part of the plan. Forget the shower... (Something more emotional/faster paced since she's rushed.) I love the "outfit that was going to say..." part! One other little thing. Is she really going to dress and go to school without a pit stop in the bathroom? Or does she not have a mirror in her room? As much as I love the Medusa line, I think she would check to see what her hair looked like at some point.

    Great voice! High energy after the first paragraph! Good job!

  11. The voice here is really good--especially the first half of the 250.

    The first paragraph is a little jarring--like two ideas are combined (the tobacco sauce, which makes late sound like a punishment and the white rabbit, which makes late sound foolish or silly). I think it should be one or the other, and I feel like the consequence to being late should be reflected in mom's reaction (who doesn't seem to care much).

    One other thing to watch for: the present tense is NOTICEABLY present tense. In that, I rush, I grab, I snag. Present tense pulls the reader in really close to what the MC is doing and sometimes it becomes distracting when there's too much stage action. I think the first half is really well written, and I don't notice the present tense at all--whereas the second half, I do.

    My advice is to try switching up the sentence structures, especially in the later half of the 250. See if you can get the voice flowing a little more in these areas, like you did for para 3 ("Forget the shower, cute hair..." which is excellent btw!)

  12. There are some great lines in here (Forget the shower . . . ), but some of the images collide for me. You go from Tabasco sauce in the mouth, to Alice in Wonderland reference, to Medusa's snakes. I would choose the one you really want to hit and leave out the rest.

    In the first sentence, I originally interpreted "late" differently, as in pregnant.

    You might not need the last part of the first sentence, "if your mom catches you saying it." I found that confusing because she didn't seem to be referring to actually saying the word "late" but the Tabasco in the mouth part (if that makes sense). It would be much cleaner without that phrase.

    I could use an age indication in the logline, just to give the context. The Tabasco reference and the Alice reference cued me to a younger MC than you might have here.

    You do a good job of setting up the dynamic between Merritt and her mom. The rift between parents and teens always plays well.

  13. You have a strong narrative voice here and wonderful pace. I love the line about her hair looking like Medusa's snakes partied in it. Great job!

    I would say although I love your opening line with the Tabasco sauce, I agree that the white rabbit analogy ran a tad too long unless it has significance. I would rather see this as your opener: Today I'm one of those four-letter-words. Late.

    Best of luck to you!

  14. My thoughts on this are a little jumbled up. First off, starting at the very end: Perhaps it's just me, but the use of the word 'Whatever' in this context is suicide. Twenty-years or so out of date and way to stand-offish for the reader. Which goes back to the second thing: in the log line, the entire paragraph(!) is typical serious/romance and then you seem to throw every single ounce of that away with the sudden appearance of a rather jarring punchline. It's either stereotypical high school romance ('dark haired loner'/ 'deep in his green irises') or it's a quirky romantic-comedy ('grounded for eternity'). If you're going for both of those, this needs to be FAR tighter.

    Third, and the one thing I was really expecting someone else to comment on: Where do they live? Unless they're in AK, with a FOOT of snow on the ground school would be cancelled and she could go back to sleep...maybe after checking in a mirror to make sure she still has hair.

    Fourth: 'Eep!' Really?

    Fifth: she's so strongly ignoring what she's wearing, what she looks like, but pauses somehow to inform us about the color of her parka? Is it important somehow to the rest of the book that we know her new parka is spearmint colored? More important than even her hair color?

    Sixth: So Hamza, based on the log line is a hidden Prince of some sort? So, if I had to guess, there are bad guys he's hiding from. Bad guys who would kill him if they found him.

    So, either they find him and he dies (along with anyone around him at the time I guess) or they don't find him and he lives.

    Therefore, his secret has two possible resolutions (discovered/undiscovered). Why would her parents ground her ('for eternity') for falling in love with a Prince? If they're discovered, they're dead. No grounding. If they're not discovered, there's no problem. No grounding.

    There's got to be a pretty serious plot point completely missing from your very long log line, no?

    And since I brought up the log line: 'Eventually' isn't needed. Pretty much ever.

    Why does Merritt become gossip fodder? For the break up? For Medusa hair? Acne? Sexting? What?

    The 'she feels like an island' doesn't really convey what I think you want it to. You've got tremendous incredible metaphors in the excerpt (I could read that first paragraph over and over again all day long) but this one falls a little flat.

    Good luck with this, you've got a powerful voice which is lovely to read.