Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Name That Genre: Critique Round #8

TITLE: Beverly Hills Adjacent
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Dear Stacey,

Dad said I have to apologize, so here goes: I’m sorry about your Louboutins. That’s a lie and we both know it. If you ever made anything besides reservations, you’d have found your shoe behind all those fancy olive oils you bought last year. How many olive oils did you think we needed? YOU ONLY EAT FAT-FREE DRESSING. Anyway, it’s not my fault they spilled. This is Los Angeles. We have earthquakes.

I’m sorry Fariba threw it away, but I thought you’d find it first. You’ve poked through everything else, including my room after I told you to stay out, but did you listen? NO. If you ever go through my stuff again, I will hide more than your Louboutins. Do we understand each other? I’ll be in my room if anyone wants to come yell at me or RIFLE THROUGH MY BELONGINGS LIKE A STILETTO-HEELED SPY.


Westley Fagan, oppressed person.

I stab a fork through the letter, pinning it to the watermelon on the counter next to the gold ceramic piggy-bank Dad bought me when we were still a family. My step-mother believes in the reduced-calorie powers of watermelon. She’ll find it. I grab Macbeth and a box of Cheese Squares and hide in my closet.

I actually like Macbeth. I love the witches, love the death, love the theater superstitions my dad told me about when he was between cases, back when I was still at Hamilton High, where people talked to me, and I had a thirty/seventy chance of getting invited to parties. I don’t need to open the book, but I do anyway, skimming lines, devouring pages. We started reading it two weeks ago at Beverly Hills High. We are still in Act I.

A door slams. The sinister clicking of stilettos vibrates through the floorboards.


  1. I love so much about this. The voice is funny and sharp. The ideas universal yet fresh. Very cool.

    That said, I had to reread the first few sentences more than once before I knew what was going on. I didn't know what Louboutins were and that held me up. Before I could work that out, "if you ever made anything but reservations" lost me again for a few beats. (The cooking reference didn't connect with the thing-I-still-didn't-realize-was-a-shoe so without context, "made" could mean almost anything.) I love the idea and maybe if I weren't already confused I would have passed right by and known exactly what you meant. I did figure it all out by the end, obviously, but I'd really recommend reordering a few words so that someone who doesn't know brand names might not get so lost.

    Also, I confess that by the end of the excerpt, I was really surprised he was talking about high school. The voice sounded younger to me.

    Good luck with this!

  2. I really like the voice here. Westley is both sarcastic and vulnerable--not easy to do. I love the way you introduce characters without introducing them.

    I really like everything about this, but I do agree that the voice seemed younger. I was thinking a middle-grade voice, at best a freshman maybe.

    Wonderful writing.

  3. Well done. I loved this. I was hooked and I'm sure my daughters would be too.

    My book, Death by High Heels, has a line about not being able to kill someone with a shoe and the response is "Hello, they're Via Spiga." So you know I loved the Louboutins reference.

    Look forward to reading more of this.

    Violet Ingram

  4. I really enjoyed the humor here and I think you created a very sympathetic scenario, but I question the "YA" part. This kid seems pretty young. These seem like a younger kid's reactions and actions.

    I also felt " on the counter next to the gold ceramic piggy-bank Dad bought me when we were still a family" was unnecessary. You already set up quite clearly how this kid feels about his step-mom. You don't need this.

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  6. I love this character's voice, but I thought he was Junior High rather than high school.

    I had no idea what Louboutins were. I had to google it. Not sure if that would turn readers off or not, but thought you should be aware.

    I understand that your character hates his new high school. I would too if it took a class 2 weeks and they still weren't through Act I of MacBeth. That being said, I love this little tidbit, and I like that he has solid reasoning to hate the school rather than just the classic "all my friends are gone." This is a strong beginning, in my opinion.

  7. I really liked the voice of this one. That made me want to read more.

    I could see these characters being in high school because they act almost lexactly like my nieces who are 17 and 18. So I didn't think the voice sounded too young.

    Also, I like the subtle show of the differences between her old school and her new school (i.e. Macbeth).

  8. I agree with the other comments, but I thought the mc was a girl, couldn't get that out of my head even after seeing the name.
    Most guys just aren't this introspective (although some are).

    But while I was assuming female, I loved it, with the couple hiccups Leah mentioned.

  9. I love the voice in this one. Very snarky and obviously frustrated.

    I was a tad surprised when I discovered the letter was written by a boy and the recipient was his step-mother. I had assumed it was two sisters. That's probably a biased assumption, though, since I have two sisters, and I could see having this fight. But the thing, I think, that made it feel like sisters, was "that's a lie and we both know it" combined with the outright hostility in this letter. He's apparently very upfront about his disdain for his step-mother, and that didn't feel like a child-to-adult interaction. Another thing is that he claims he's not sorry in the first paragraph, but starts the second paragraph off with, "I'm sorry." It feels inconsistent in that bit.

    I tripped on the "I actually like Macbeth" because there's nothing in the previous paragraph to indicate he wouldn't. He takes it with him into hiding, so it's assumed. Maybe move the thought that they're studying it in class to the front so we know it's homework?

    But those are quibbles. I enjoyed the page.

  10. You might consider addressing the letter to Dear Stepmother, or address it in a way that makes it clear that the MC is writing the note to his stepmother. I thought the MC was a boy writing to his older sister instead of to a stepmother. Loubitins may not be in the vocabulary of most teen boys and if this story is aimed toward boys as the audience, you might add a bit more that would be familiar to teens. These are easy things to fix.
    I love the voice. The first page pulls you into the story.

  11. This is the only downside of starting with a letter or dialogue. I thought the letter was written by a boy to his older sister. The voice in the letter is great and hilarious, but it is reading like a 12 year old boy talking to a sibling, which might be perfect actually if the step-mother isn't much older than he is, like early 20s.

    The voice in the paragraph underneath the letter reads more like a high school girl, but it could be I assumed it was the sister reading the letter from her brother. I did get that the POV character was Westley from the actions of the character around that second sentence, so really good job there, but it did cause me to stumble quite a bit when I realized it. I just wonder if maybe you should have a sentence before the letter that makes it clear the character is writing the letter to avoid any confusion about who the POV character is later.

  12. Until I read the other comments, I also thought the letter was to an older sister not the stepmother and that the MC was a girl. I guess I should of paid more attention while reading. With a few adjustments, it could be made clearer. Overall, I was not hooked but the writing was good enough that I would read on for a few more pages. I am curious to see the interaction between the MC and his stepmother. Voice does sound female and a bit young. Hiding in a closet doesn't seem like something a high school boy would do. It's hard to tell with 300 words if the gender will be a problem through out the story. Good Luck.

  13. I liked the letter, but I too thought it was a younger sister talking to her older sister. I was shocked to find out something so snarky was addressed to a stepmother. I don't get high school or boy anywhere in here.

    Consider addressing the letter, Evil Stepmother, at least that would clarify things a bit.

    Would a defiant teenager bother to hide in the closet?

    When I read the first line about Macbeth, I thought it was a dog. Consider adding 'a copy of' Macbeth so we understand it's the play.

    Also consider finding a way to tie reading Macbeth to the earlier action. Maybe Macbeth's wife looks remarkably like the stepmother.

  14. Author speaking: Not sure if this is an allowed interjection, but the main character is female. She just has a masculine name. Page two clarifies that, but perhaps I should shift that to page one.

  15. Glad to know MC is a girl.

    My guess is second page to clarify MC is female would be ok.

    Other options might be to say oppressed female instead of oppressed person. Or perhaps squeezing in the word daughter somewhere or to the gold ceramic piggy-bank Dad bought me when we were still a family and I was still his little girl/princess/etc.

  16. I love this opening. The voice is fantastic. I can picture this family and I understand the dynamics right from the beginning. I'd keep reading just to hear more of Westley's voice. And I love the tension of ending with the approach of stiletto-heeled footsteps.

    My only nitpick would be to suggest that you not use "Louboutins" twice. It's such a stand out word that the repetition is jarring. And if you say "shoes" the second time, it clarifies for people who might not recognize the brand name.

    Other than that, I have no suggestions. It was terrific. Good luck.

  17. I composed my own comments without reading the others first, so I'm jumping back in to say that I also assumed the note was to an older sister. I didn't consider anything else until reading the other comments. Maybe I should have realized that "Stacey" is more a Mom name these days than a teenager name. But still, that's something that could be clarified.

    I'm also glad to hear the MC is a girl. The fashion and diet related details made me think girl, but I wasn't sure.

  18. I like this. It had the teen voice in it. It also felt like it meandered around a lot which is (to me) characteristic of the teen voice.

    Goog job!

  19. I really like this too. And I'm surprised to see that some people thought the voice was younger, because it didn't strike me that way at all -- I could even imagine this being a college student.

    But I agree that you might want to make it very clear that Louboutins are shoes, especially since the idea of shoes and olive oil being in the same location is puzzling, and it's not immediately obvious that the narrator must have hidden the shoe where a shoe doesn't belong!

    And the voice is definitely feminine; since the name appeared to be a boy's name, I was imagining that this was a young man who was probably gay, and it seemed that could be a fun twist and add another layer of interest to the usual conflict between a teenager and stepmother.

    So I have to say that, although it may be realistic because there are so many gender-ambivalent names used now (and many names that used to be boy's names are now usually girl's names!), I would recommend staying away from those in fiction. Although it would obviously be less of an issue when someone has an entire book in their hands, unless that aspect of the character's name comes into play in the story, I think it's best to avoid the potential problems. Some readers (especially older ones) may find the use of such names rather jarring, and consequently a bit off-putting.

    But all in all, this a strong opening; the voice is really fun, and I'd like to read more. :)

  20. I too really liked this opening, except for the bit about the shoe brand I'd never heard of. I think I assumed girl when I first read this piece, but the Westley steered me towards boy. I'm not sure middle-grade kids would be as snarky as this girl. At least my younger stepdaughter wasn't when she was a child. My older stepdaughter most definitely was snarky.
    Also, I assumed the letter writer was addressing a housemate and was confused as to how the stepmother fit in. Good luck with this, Sarah.