Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Liza Bird
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade Fiction

You would think that going into middle school is the greatest thing in the world. People started talking about it before my seat in elementary school was even cold. But if I had known how hard sixth grade was going to be, I might have rolled in the poison ivy patch out back to get out of going, at least for a while. The result would have been more bearable.

On the very first day of school I begged my mother for the millionth time to let me ride my bike like everyone else. "Liza Dawson," she said, "I told you 'no' and I meant it." She was upset with me for even asking. But she was always frustrated or annoyed or mad at me for something, so I was used to it.

"I promise I won't get lost," I begged, even though I wasn't sure I could keep that promise. I got lost more easily than socks in a dryer. But the thought of getting lost and being late sounded a whole lot better than having my mother drive me to my first day of middle school. But she did.
In the school office I waited in line for my schedule for forever. When it was my turn, a lady asked me my name. She handed me a piece of paper and said, "Welcome to Milton Middle School." Then the next kid in line moved up and I was pushed aside.


  1. You can drop the 1st paragraph, it doesn't add anything. And I don't know why you bother to tell us that your MC gets driven to school - there's no payoff, you just say it and drop it. (no embarassing car? No mom walking into the school?)
    I do love the line about socks in the dryer, but that's the best part of this. Otherwise nothing happens.

  2. I enjoyed the strong voice in this opening. I especially liked the line, "before my seat in elementary school was even cold."

    I think the conflict between she and her Mom could be effective in the story, but it feels misplaced here when her mom has obvious, legitimate concerns about her well-being (not getting lost on the way to school).

    Good job and good luck!

  3. I write middle grade as well, and teach junior high ELA, and this is spot on in terms of voice and content. I like it and would keep reading. The MORE important thing is middle-grade readers would like it and keep reading.

  4. I think this would read better and be more interesting if you started with the third paragraph where the action begins. I just scanned the first part until I got to the third paragraph.

  5. I think the voice is great but the opening is not too terribly exciting for me. It sounds like typical first day antics.
    So, even though the plot doesn't entice me, the voice does. I wonder if there's a better/more compelling spot to drop into the story?

    Good luck with this.

  6. The voice hooked me right away. However, nothing happened except her mother driving her to school. Perhaps start the story where 6 grade became worse than poison ivy?

  7. Great voice! Loved the last line about her getting pushed out of the way.

  8. Unfortunately, there's nothing here. A girl wants to ride her bike to school but instead gets driven by mom. Nothing happens because of it, so the story's over.

    Who is your main character? What does she want? And what stands in her way? That's what I've always been taught to include on the first page. And then start just before the problem occurs.

  9. i liked the voice.
    i do think the mom/kid conflict is appropriate, and the kid would be annoyed about not getting to do what she wanted even if her mother was concerned with her safety. that's the entire point of kids not getting things like this. i battled with my mom all the time but didn't have the adult insight to realize my mom was right until i grew up.
    i think this is cute so far, but maybe i'm not the best judge because i don't read middle grade yet. my daughter's too young and i'm wayyyyyy too old.

  10. The voice seems older than middle grade to me, especially because it's in the first person. There's not much here to separate it from any other starting in a new school story. If I read on, I'd want to something different really quickly. Right now, I'm not hooked.

  11. I liked this - although not much is happening, I think it establishes voice and your character has a good one. The only thing is, there doesn't seem to be any consequence to her mother driving her, so it's hard to identify why she cares. Maybe a line stuck in there showing one of the other students parking their bike and staring at the MC, to show that it is embarrassing to be driven to school, something like that, would make her embarrassment seem more real.
    I would most definitely continue reading.

  12. I believe this could be imbued with a little more life and personality of the protagonist. Also, you can easily make the last line active, ‘Then the next kid in line moved up pushed me aside.’

  13. I love the voice you've created. It's very authentic to the readership.

    As a mom who will probably want to walk her child to university...I had to chuckle at the timeless struggle for independence.

    good job.

  14. I'm sorry. I'm just not feeling it. There isn't much happening and I'm not sure if the voice rings true to me or not. At times it feels a bit forced.

  15. Like the voice, like the character, but not interested in reading yet another first-day-of-school-jitters story. Please, give us something more unique to your character right from the beginning. The line about rolling in the poison ivy out back--that's a keeper. But I'm sure there's a much stronger place to start your story.

  16. I think the reflective first paragraph should go. It just doesn't add anything except for most of us other than middle grade readers going Middle school was akin to the Worst. Time. of My. Life.

    But the more pressing problem is this opening screams "Quiet" which is a real problem in today's market. First day of school is a topic which has been overdone and the voice here isn't unique or different enough to make someone sit up and pay attention.

    Since I'm only reading this scene, there might be something else in the concept that makes this unique - if there is, that's what you have to get into the beginning.