Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#46 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Kumquat Code
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary

Camp is ruined.

I've waited 341 days to be with Z, my best friend, soul mate, twin separated at birth, only to discover we're not roommates. How will I survive the next three weeks?

The woman at the registration table glares at me under her emerald eye shadow. "Tak boleh, cannot change. Go to orientation, Edith Tan, you're late."

I drag my luggage out to the hallway, my jeans heavy and soggy from sploshing through the monsoon storm on my way to the Universiti Malaya campus; my insides equally heavy and soggy. Excitement, my fuel for the past weeks, has abandoned me and all I can do is sit and cradle my head in my hands. Maybe I'll just stay here till I fossilize so millions of years from now, archaeologists can have some fun studying a human shaped like a shrimp.


My heart leaps. Only one person in the universe calls me that. I look up to see Z, all flailing limbs and flying braids, dash toward me. I rush to hug her, but somehow manage to knock her violin case and shoulder bag off.

"I'm so sorry, Z!"

Z brings her violin out in a flash. She runs her fingers gently over the instrument to check for damage and plucks each string. To my relief, she smiles. "The violin's fine. Don't worry, Edie, you were just keeping up our Clum-Klutz tradition."

I snort. Clumsiness is the third trait we share besides our love for music and silliness.


  1. I like the dynamic between the two, and I like the first paragraph though I'd lose the :camp is ruined" line. But where are they???? I need to know!

  2. I liked the 'Camp is ruined' opening. I thought it immediately set the stage. And you have a great location here. A foreign locale always draws me in because chances are, I'll never get to go there in real life.

    The 'Tak boleh' threw me for a moment, but then I realized she was speaking another language, and that would be italicized in a book. I loved the fossilizing sentence.

    I'm hooked. We have best friends in a foreign country, two klutz's and an expensive violin, good writing. What's not to like?

  3. I like this. The opening hooked me in. Just one note, when the MC says "How will I survive the next three weeks?" It doesn't sound real for the age. My little sister is 11 and she wouldn't think it like that instead she would think "Jeez, these next three weeks are going to suck!" But, I do like how dramatic the MC thinks of everything, the clumsy statement was hilarious, and since I already know what the problem is I'm enticed to read more. Great job!!

  4. I agree that the opening paragraph reads more like YA than middle grade because of the narrator's tone. I can't imagine an 11/12 year old talking about soul mates.

    The mention of a "campus" made me imagine they're at a college, which also sets this at a higher reading level than MG.

    Overall, this has unique touches already, which is a good sign. I like it.

  5. I like the dynamics between the two girls and the foreign locale. I'd read on.

  6. I'm super intrigued by the setting (Malaysia, I'm assuming?), the main character is adorable, and your writing is very strong. My only nitpick is with the very last sentence: "Clumsiness is the third trait we share besides our love for music and silliness." It feels kind of clunky. But that wouldn't stop me from reading on.

  7. I like that the scene is immediately set and the voice of the mc. The "Tak boleh" confused me. I want to know what she really said. I love the dynamics of the mc and her best friend.

  8. I think you nailed it. Keep the camp line at the start and of course 11 year olds (even 12 year olds) think their best friends are soul mates, keep it. But every reader is different. I never once thought this was YA.

    Great job. Not all commenters read all these genres. Keep that in mind when you're sifting.

  9. It seems like I'm in the minority, but I would start a little earlier - maybe five minutes earlier. It would be nice to see the narrator's anticipation at arriving at camp, seeing her friend, etc. Then we'd be able to empathize a more with her disappointment.

    I love the premise and think the setting and musical aspect make this very unique. The dialogue seemed a bit forced to me, and some of the actions seemed a bit cliche. For example "I snort" bumped me out because, even though it's used a lot in fiction, it doesn't really reflect the sounds that people late. "My heart leaps" was a bit cliche too.

  10. I love this! Well written and cute and engaging. The flow is great and the tone is very MG in my opinion. I have a diva 7 year old precocious daughter who already talks like your MC, so I think your MC's dialog is appropriate. Good job!

  11. I'm hooked!

    The voice is great and I like the location already. Camp stories are always fun for middle grade, but here the two friends are in a foreign country...even better!

    I loved the part about the fossil/ shrimp... so cute.

    The only suggestion I have concerns your last line. It seemed a bit awkward. What if you just said, "Clumsiness is the biggest trait we share." and leave it at that? You can use the rest of the story to flesh out what else the friends have in common. Just a thought. :)

    You did a nice job here. The writing flows well and it sounds just like middle grade to me. I would love to read more!

    Good luck!

  12. I like this a lot. It's felt solidly Middle Grades to me.
    My favorite part was the line "all flailing limbs and flying braids." What a fabulous (and lovable) image.

    And I love that it takes place in Malaysia - so cool!

  13. I'd love to read this novel. The title alone promises an interesting adventure with the insecure MC right from the beginning. The Bahasa phrase "Tak boleh" could be "Tak boleh tukar" for "cannot change."

    The word "trait" is probably too adult for the MC.

    Good luck!

  14. I'd read on -- this seems like it might be cute. I like the voice and it's well-written.

    Some nitpicks:

    In the second paragraph, you might want to set off the "my best friend, soul mate, twin separated at birth" part using em dashes. When first reading the sentence, I thought you were listing several different people.

    In paragraph four, I'm not a fan of the semicolon. I don't think it's quite grammatically correct, either.

    In the same paragraph, the sentence "Excitement, my fuel for the past weeks, has abandoned me" seems really distant for a first-person narrative. It took me out of her head.

    Overall though, this worked for me. :)

  15. I enjoyed reading this all the way through, and I would continue reading.

    I really like the fact that the camp is in Malaysia.

    There are many lines I like: the fossilization, "my insides equally heavy and soggy" (though Corinne is right; semi-colons need to separate complete sentences or items in a list), and the flailing limbs and flying braids.

    Sadly, I've snorted in real life, so I'm okay with your usage of the word. (Though I agree with the verdict of clumsiness re: the last sentence. It seems like a mini info dump.)

    My only question: If Z is actually attending camp, then why is the fact that they aren't roommates going to ruin the experience? They'll still be able to see each other a ton, no?

  16. I like this! The middle grade voice is great. I'd continue reading.

  17. Hooked. I love the voice, the setting and the relationship between the two friends.

    My only suggestion is to really clean up your grammar. You've misused the semicolon, and you have misplaced and missing commas. For me it was a slight distraction.

    Overall, though, I loved this and would certainly read more.

  18. Hey, Secret Agent here! There’s some good energy to this sample, though I’m not sure the voice is entirely natural. Sentences like “Excitement, my fuel for the past weeks, has abandoned me” don’t strike me as something a 9 or 10 y.o. would say. There’s a bit of Victorian/elevated diction going on. Instead of hearing about these two kids who are really good friends, I want to see them interact right off the bat, and read that closeness for myself.