Friday, November 29, 2013

(53) MG Contemporary: CLEMENTINE

TITLE: Clementine
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade

Fourteen-year-old Clementine is only allowed to leave the cabin she shares with Mama and Daddy when she helps bury the bodies of Mama’s many miscarried babies. A tumor takes root in Mama’s belly and after Clementine helps place Mama next to the dead babies, she’s left alone with Daddy. Alone, until Daddy brings a new sister to live with them.

I don’t have much that is just mine.

I have a rag doll in a yellow dress that

Mama made for me when I was small.

The doll, Annie, has blue eyes and brown hair,

just like me.

Her face is smudged with dirt,

but my face is clean.

I don’t go outside much.

It isn’t safe, and Daddy gets angry.

I have a belt made from leather that

Daddy gave me when I was small.

The belt is dark brown with little flowers

carved into it.

Mama makes most of my clothes,

so the belt is something special,

but I don’t like it.

If I go outside without permission,

Daddy hits me with that belt.

I am Clementine.

The only people I know are Mama and Daddy

and some people from books.

Mama has a trunk full of books.

She calls them peace-offering books.

For every fight, every raised fist, every flowering bruise,

Daddy presents Mama with a book.

Those little paper apologies crowd her trunk,

Whispering the words that Daddy will never speak.


My mama’s young

Said she was about 13 when she had me; that makes her 27 or so now.

A baby having a baby,

she said.

Told me she didn’t know what to do with me.

Hadn’t ever been around any other babies.

For a long, long time, hadn’t been around anyone except Daddy,

she whispered.

Daddy is older

Tall, covered in ropy muscle

Strong, leaving bruises on mama’s face and body

Quiet, saying things only once, and you’d better listen when he talks.

Listen hard.


  1. Love this one. Story starts up from the opening line. Voice is compelling. I understand this girl's family situation immediately. I am terrified for her.

  2. Reading your entry I am thinking two things:
    1. I need this book to be published so I can read it.
    2. I will be both scared and excited when I get my hands on it.

    Good luck!

  3. This really is quite chilling. Lots of whispering and talking quietly (and menacingly, I'd wager)--the novel-in-verse format works to intensify the emotions in what I assume is a story about finding one's voice.

    Not sure what the market currently is for novels-in-verse--but this is certainly one that I would be interested in reading further.

  4. Gorgeously, hauntingly written. I expect to see a lot of bids on this one.

  5. I think verse is perfect for this story.

    I am left wondering though, since there is no mention of him abusing the MC, is the new addition really a sister or a new mother for the Dad to abuse?

    Good luck!

  6. This isn't bad, but the flow is a little choppy and it reads a bit like "here are some random things that will make you feel sorry for me." You want the reader to be engaged with the MC's plight, even if it is a dark one. I feel sorry for this character, but she hasn't engaged me. Perhaps this is because there is nothing happening yet. For example, if someone took her doll and then she said it was the only thing she owned, I would be engaged because I'd want her to get it back.

    Also, this sounds like a child's voice but you say she's 14 and 14 is not middle grade (and she sounds much younger, especially when the first thing she mentions is her doll).

    Good luck!

  7. I agree with Holly, in that nothing happens here. She's telling us about her situation, and I feel sorry for her, but what is happening now? What is she doing as the story begins? (It hasn't begun yet.)

    Perhaps start with Momma's death, or Daddy bringing the new sister home, then all the things you're telling us here could be shown in real time.

    Good luck!

  8. This is a haunting piece, lyrical and dark. It definitely stands out. The voice is strong. The hints and details we can glean through her naive POV both repel and attract, that is, the details of her life are repellent, but the story is nevertheless one I would feel compelled to read.

    Very, very nicely done.

    Best of luck with it!

  9. Like a lot of others, I found the tension implicit in Clementine's "list of stuff about my life" opening compelling rather than "nothing is happening." I would read on, but I'd do it with a night light on.

    The strongest moment for me is section about the "paper apologies" that are the trunk full of books. Much is done to characterize the family dynamic there.

    The simplicity and immaturity of Clementine's voice didn't bother me very much, as I am envisioning her as quite damaged by her circumstances -- stunted, in a way. I don't read a lot of YA and no MG, though, so I can't respond to the question of age maturity from a market standpoint.

    Good luck with this!

  10. I wanted to read your post because I immediately thought of Sara Pennypacker's MG chapter book with the same title. I love that series, which is light and funny, VERY different from yours. so that made me wonder if you should have a different title. Other than that I was transported into the life of this stark character and her sad life. I would agree that the genre of yours might be more YA than MG. I like the verse style and find it adds to the tension and foreboding I feel for her.
    Good luck!

  11. I think this is gorgeous - the voice, the verse - all simply gorgeous.
    Two main concerns, neither of which has to do with the writing.
    First, as was mentioned, Clementine is a MG book already - a very, very different MG book.
    Second, I can't see this as middle grade - it reminds me a bit of ROOM, where the MC is a child, but the content and the audience is very adult. Both the logline and the sample hint at - or flat out divulge - some very disturbing facts of Clementine's life that I believe make this not middle grade. A 14-year-old protag would skew toward YA simply based on her age, and the seriousness and desperation of her situation might work for YA.
    It's simply beautiful though in its simplicity and honesty. Well done!

  12. OMGoodness. Scary and compelling. From the logline and the language of the story, I MUST know more.

    This immediately made me think of the books "Room" and "If You Find Me." Lovely books full of sadness.
    Best of luck.

  13. Wow! You're got a lot here - dead Mama, abusive Daddy, dead babies. This sounds very intense. You've certainly hooked the reader.

    This is contemporary, but "cabin" makes me wonder if it's older, or perhaps the setting is in the backwoods of Appalachia. I'd like to know this soon.

    Good luck!

  14. Haunting, lyrical, authentic. This is excellent writing. I feel that more than enough is ‘happening’ here, and agree with the others that your book may be more YA than MG. I also love the voice of Mama, “peace-offering books,” “a baby having a baby.”

    “Listen hard” is so good. I don’t know what else to say about this except I would love to read more, and I can’t see anything I’d change. Wow.

  15. This is very good, although I think perhaps pulling your punches a little bit (no pun intended) instead of laying it on quite so thick with her miserable life might make it more effective.

    I could be wrong, but I really don't think this is MG. As someone else said, it seems like an adult book albeit with a child narrator. The themes are much too dark and grim for MG imo.

    Good luck :)

  16. I have to echo some of the other commenters and say that I read this as very YA.

    The writing is gorgeous. Someone else made the "If You Find Me" comparison, and I'd have to agree.

    I do think finding some small way to include an action would go a long way. Even just her looking for her doll because it's not where it usually is. With this kind of writing and set up it wouldn't take much.

    Best of luck to you, I hope I get to read this as a published book one day!

  17. The voice seems younger than a fourteen year old girl. Also, most fourteen year old girls don't carry around a doll because they're interested in other things by the time they're teenagers. If this is contemporary, I'm confused about the setting since you say the girl can't leave the cabin. Where does this take place? Why isn't she attending school. In my county, kids must attend school and if parents refuse to send them, they'll prosecute the parents, unless the kids are home schooled. I also thought if you had dialogue in the beginning it might make it even more compelling

  18. The logline is definitely creepy and this seems a little heavy for MG, don't think many kids would voluntarily pick this up. However, though it seems so adult the MC herself seems very childlike for her age so there is some kind of disconnect happening somewhere.
    The writing in verse style seems hard to keep up, but it is effective here.

  19. I don't read much MG, but I was entranced by this opening. So much voice and such an undercurrent of menace, it kept me riveted.

    My only issues are that it felt, from her voice, that Clementine was much younger - maybe ten - and it seemed odd to me that she counted how old her mother is now. Being thirteen when Clementine was born is something worth knowing, but unless it's important to the story I don't think we need to know that she's twenty-seven.

    Just wow. Best of luck with this!

  20. This was haunting and beautiful and has to be YA. 1) that allows you so much more gray areas to explore and 2) MG tends towards humor more than serious fare so often that I'm not sure how something this dark would be received, whereas YA is booming with darkness (yay...but I might be biased there).

    I loved this, loved the writing, loved the concept, loved the evil of it all. I agree with the comment that the '27' statement isn't really necessary; it's enough to know mama was 13. Also, if mama was 13 and Clementine is now 14 I'd assume that the 'sister' Daddy 'brings home' would be the daughter of Clementine (though that's likely darker than you intend, or could get away with in YA). But the story is so creepy and dark that the incest/abuse aspect seemed a possibility (especially since you've already established that 'Daddy' likes them young).

    As for the excerpt: I also have a slight problem with the doll. Not sure how important dolls are later in the book to know whether or not it has to be there but as it's the first thing she mentions as belonging to her it heightens the importance of it and skews younger than 14. There is then no transition from doll/clean face to going outside so the two sentences on going outside seem a little out of place.

    The belt, oh the belt. Now that's important. Far more so in this excerpt than the doll. I'd almost prefer to see a slight change in location: for instance:

    I don't go outside much.
    It isn't safe, and Daddy gets angry.

    I don't have much that is just mine.
    (another line here to echo the previous 'verse' since you have the mirror of 'I don't' sentences here)

    I have a belt made from leather...etc

    That, to me at least, would be a better way to begin this brilliant piece.

    I adore and LOVE the books. Love everything about that. But there's one flaw:

    'Whispering the wordS that Daddy will never speak.

    'Sorry' is one word, singular. Are there other words Daddy will never speak that are found in the books? You need to include them. Otherwise, it should be 'whispering the word (singular) that Daddy will never speak.'

    Other than that, the entire book section is just perfect.

    This rhythm: 'Said she was about 13 when she had me. A baby having a baby, she said.' is simply glorious.

    Love the almost palindromic poetry of 'said she'...and...'she said'

    And I just want to echo other comments that 'Listen hard' is wonderful.

    Best of luck, really looking forward to reading more!

  21. The writing is very good here, but I agree with some other readers that the story hasn't started yet. Also, that this feels really dark, too dark for MG. Good luck.

  22. I agree that this reads darker, more YA or even adult than MG. Also agree that you can safely lose the line about Mama being 27, unless this is just your way of showing how old Clementine is.

    The voice was fine for me as a 14 year old girl. Kids who have been through severe trauma often present as younger than they are, especially in terms of literacy, speech and social development. Plus, she has no peers to impress or copy. Lots of 14 year old girls still have teddies on their beds (I know I did), they just don't tell their friends.

    Great job, author. Can't wait to read more!

  23. 50 pages! (Can I do that? If not the appropriate amount of pages.)

  24. 70 pages!

  25. Oops! I think I have to go up to 100



  27. Hi there!

    First, I feel very strongly that you need to clearly define whether this is MG or YA. I really could see it as either. Clementine’s voice felt young for YA, but plausibly so, if she really hasn’t had any human contact beyond her parents at the cabin. If you wanted to keep her at 14, I would encourage you to temper her innocence by showing her depth and experience in other areas. For example—she has buried her Mama’s miscarried babies for years. I would imagine that has had a tremendous effect on her. You could use this scene to illustrate her innocence by showing that she sees this action as matter of fact and necessary, but also provide readers with insight into her depth by having her wonder why her Mama continues to go through this when she is so devastated after each child dies. But as Peter mentioned, you have so much more space to explore darker subject matters in YA than you do in adult. In addition, if you really wanted to keep this MG—one of the first things any editor would request of you would be to consider lowering the age of your protagonist to 12 from 14. There is a spot in middle grade for books appropriate for ages 10-14, but it’s a very confusing age group for B&N shelving-wise and we try to avoid it whenever possible.

    I LOVE dark and edgy contemporary—you hit my editorial sweet spot—so I also can’t help but be intrigued by and wonder about the dark themes at play here. I have the feeling that Clementine’s father may have kidnapped Clementine’s mother when she was young—she did have Clementine at 13—and is grooming this new sister to replace her mother. But, I have no doubt that you’ll surprise me.  This premise is incredibly strong and intriguing—I could absolutely see this being on par with Elizabeth Scott’s LIVING DEAD GIRL.

    I am eager to see the full manuscript, someday.