Wednesday, February 10, 2010

50 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA mystery

My parents thought they won this trip to Paris in a contest, but then they believed I went to football camp the last two summers, not spy school.

Headquarters told me to watch for my contact when we arrived at Charles de Galle Airport. I'd been on the lookout since we got off the plane from New York.

When we stepped out into the drizzle and headed for a taxi, a lady screamed so loud, I dropped my luggage and stared in her direction.

“What’s happening?” In braids and full-cowgirl outfit, my eight-year-old sister banged into me with her suitcase.

A lady with a red face pointed at a kid about my age, running through the crowd. “Thief! Stop him! He’s got my purse!”

“Get back.” I pushed Ruthie behind me and wished I'd packed my spy gear, which I couldn't have chanced in case my parents saw the inside of my suitcase. It didn't matter anyway.

Spy Rule #11: The most important thing for a good spy is their training, not how many gadgets they have.

The thief wore scruffy clothes that bagged around his skinny body. He zigzagged down the sidewalk, jumped over luggage, and held his other arm out to push bystanders away.

“Stop him, somebody!” The lady shouted again.

When the thief ran by, I grabbed him around the shoulders. He struggled and tried to push me away, but I held on. We fell to the ground with a loud thud, and I yanked the purse out of his hands.


  1. This has a little bit of a middle grade feel to it for me. I think it's the "Spy Rule" inserted into the text that's doing that for me. Also, I don't know much about the MC yet, and I'm having a hard time putting an age to him. I'd read on, hoping to learn more about the MC in the coming pages.

  2. You have an inciting incident.

    I would assume it would be a struggle for the kid to grab the thief's shoulders. Is he smaller? Would he have to jump first? Is the protagonist a boy or a girl? I can't tell age either.

    Maybe instead of, "but then they believed", it could be "but they also believed". It read a little funny.

    I also noticed the that almost each paragraph was two or three lines. Perhaps paragraphs one and two could be merged.

    The entry reads MG to me too. It's hard when it's only 200 words.

  3. Interesting, but are you sure it's YA? I do like it, but I can see my eight-year-old reading this and I don't let her read YA. Besides that, the first paragraph didn't make sense to me. What's the connection between the football camp/spy camp and the trip to Paris? Are you saying his parents' trip is really a cover for some kind of spy mission he's going on? If that's the case, it isn't clear. Also, the pace is pretty choppy. I'd work on smoothing it out -- though if this is MG, it might work.

    Good luck!

  4. It's an exciting opening in terms of action, and it gives me a good sense for who your MC is (except male or female, I'm not honestly sure. Guessing male, from the strength required to grab a thief by the shoulders and yank him down.) Some of your phrasing could stand to be smoothed out - the first paragraph, for example, didn't make sense to me on first read. A few typos, too - check the spelling of De Gaulle. Also, 'The lady shouted again' should be lower case the, since it's a dialogue tag. (or at least I'm reading it as one.) Either way, I might read on to learn why this young spy risked blowing cover over a snatched purse :)

  5. Agree that this has more of a MG feel to it. I'd read on to see what happens next, but am having a hard time pictureing an older teen MC here.

  6. Intriguing premise, fun action to start, and an engaging voice. I have to agree, though, that this reads younger than YA. Still, I'd probably read on to find out what happens next!

  7. I like the opening, but I didn't get the best sense of where people were (in this chase scene--how far away this lady was, how far away the thief was). Also, had no idea of the age of the protagonist, so I wasn't sure if he'd be able to tackle a thief (whose size we also are not privvy to). I think you should put the description of the sister in, before her "What's happening?" question. That read a little confusing to me, and I had to re-read it.

    Ultimately, I like the voice of the character and the premise.

  8. I'm with the previous comments here. So far, this has more of a middle grade feel to it. My son is 13, and he was really into the Anthony Horowitz series a couple of years ago, and that's kind of what this reminds me of. Spy stories for young readers in general make me think MG, so you'll need a twist, something edgy, to make this work for YA, in my opinion.

    I'm not completely sold, mainly b/c if it's YA but feels younger, it's going to come off as talking down to your audience, which is the kiss of death for teen readers.

  9. I thought the connection between the football/spy camp and the 'contest' trip as a cover for the mission was clear. I do agree that reads younger than YA, or at least these 200 words do.

  10. YA doesn't mean it has to be full of angst. But does your MC 'read' young? There might be a tweak here and there that would fix the youthful sound. Or it might be this is better for the MG market. A lot depends on the rest of the story.

    The writing is solid. The flow/pacing is excellent.

    There are some things that you don't need - like that first 'not spy school'. You find out soon enough this is about being a spy. Is it important to know they came from New York?

    It's funny, but I could almost say: delete the last three words from each of your paragraphs.

    We get Ruthie's name, age and complete outfit description. We don't get the MC's and then we do get 'a kid about my age' which brings out that we don't know what age that is.

    Even if the spy stuff is in the suitcase, there's not enough time to open it and extract something.

    I feel like I need a little more in the fight scene. Grabbing a moving target around the shoulders doesn't sound good enough to hold someone who is running and struggling to get away. What about a football tackle that he learned to reinforce the idea he was at football camp.

    I really like this and would love to read on. Strong writing.

  11. Reads like middle grade to me. Good stuff, but not YA stuff.

  12. I'm not a pro YA or MG reader. I immedietely pictured a high scholl boy, although football camp (as a ruse for spy school) was mentioned, I somehow from the language felt a young lady was the spy. How intriguing that would be, she'd have to be somewhat into football to get into a camp and then there is the prejudices etc. Don't mind me, I really enjoyed the flow and action, and i'd rapidly adjust to a HS boy as the hero. Hooked and would read on. Great job.

  13. I don't know quite yet what age I'd peg this for, but if you say YA I'll give the benefit of the doubt that the rest of the book reads like YA.

    Interesting incident. The voice is engaging.

    I would probably agree the earlier post to vary your paragraph lengths a bit more. Lengths that consistent for the whole book would get old.

  14. I agree that this felt MG to me as well. I can tell you with certainty that it's the language used that makes it feel MG--but, honestly, I think this type of story would go over really well in MG.

    That said, I like it! I would want to read more, and I think my MG son would like it too!

  15. I liked it until the last paragraph. Grabbing the thief around the shoulders and tackling him seemed so unlikely, it made me disregard everything that came before it. If it was a book, I wouldn't have read any further becasue I didn't believe what was happening. I could believe this kid was a teenage spy, but I couldn't believe how he stopped the thief.

    Aside from that (which is easy enough to fix) I did enjoy the rest. I liked the voice, and I could see the little sister in her cowboy outfit.

    It did read younger, like an MG, but word choices and sentence structure could change that easily. You had some not-quite-right sentences, but again, that's easily fixed, too.

    Not hooked yet, but could be.

  16. I liked this and it was an easy read - felt like MG as others have said. I could see my 8YO liking this. I like the idea of spy school and I'm sure it's many kids' secret fantasy. The one suggestion might be to clarify that your protag is far enough away from the screaming woman that he has time to respond and prepare to catch the thief. It seemed as if a lot of time elapsed between the woman's scream and the tackle. Otherwise good read!

  17. I like this premise, but I found parts of this a little confusing. To start, a missing comma in the beginning made the first line confusing. Seems like there should be a comma after "then." Also, I suppose the woman in the airport must have been another American, but would she be trying to get people's attention in French or try something else?