Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May Secret Agent #5

TITLE: The Keeper
GENRE: Middle Grade

The last day of school arrived on what should've been the perfect summer day. The sun rose in a spectacle of hot pink and day-glow orange and floated in a pale blue sky with wispy, ribbon-candy clouds. The mountain air of Vermont was warm and fragrant and peaceful.

Well, not today. Nope. Not even close. Not for Jack Wilkes. Walking home alone, like always, figuring he'd flunked the pop quiz his sixth grade teacher had unleashed during last period, Jack scuffed up pebbles along the sidewalk. His mood mimicked the changing afternoon sky . . . gray, sullen, and waiting for something unpleasant to arrive. He'd been dreaming of this summer for a long time. Now he was dreading it.

He remembered what his classmates had said when he told them about his dilemma -- at least the part he could tell them about -- Calvin, the Fresh Air Kid.

“Wow! That sucks! Sharing your room with a complete stranger . . . all summer?” Tyler had said. “Sticking a kid like that in the country for the summer is like throwing a river trout into Archer's Pond!” Tyler had flashed the girls in front a devilish grin and a wink. They'd blushed and giggled and had stared at them both all through class. Jack remembered it well because he'd been so uncomfortable having giggling girls suddenly staring at him. He'd never been the center of attention, and liked it that way.


  1. I got a clear sense of Jack's character and the situation he's facing this summer. I was a little distracted by the description of the sunrise that transitioned to Jack walking home after school, but I would read on.

  2. I liked "Calvin the Fresh Air Kid." Nice sense of character (although would Jack really think about the pink in the sunrise?) I like Jack feeling uncomfortable with girls giggling and watching him--it gives me a really good sense of his age without you ever having to tell me. (Although I'm a little confused, if Tyler is the one giving devilish grins and winks, why everyone is looking at Jack--isn't it Tyler who's pulling the attention?)

    I'd read on.

  3. I thought this needed more work. You open with a decription of the day. You say the sun rose, which indicates this glorious sky is real, not what should have been, then in the next parg you tell us it's not. It's actually a different type of day.

    And then it's the last day of school and he's having a pop quiz? Even if the teacher did give one, how many kids would actually care how they did? It's the last day of school. The test doesn't matter.

    What's important here is that Jack seems to have had something great planned for the summer (you might say what that something is) and now it's being ruined by the appearance of Calvin, the Fresh Air Kid.

    The great weather doesn't matter, nor does the last day of school, since you start with them ending. Perhaps start with the moment when he's actually meeting Calvin for the first time.

  4. I'm totally confused by the beginning too. You say the last day arrives perfectly but then say it doesn't and that it's not even arriving anymore because it's already over. But then you flash back to something that happened before the end but don't tell us when it happened so I am even more confused.

    And I agree--teachers don't give pop quizzes during the last period of the last day but even if they did, what would this have to do with ruining his day? It sounds like it's the news of Calvin that ruined it (although I can't figure out how he got this news at school!)

    Final comment: if this "news" is the inciting incident of your story, it can't happen before page one. In fact, it shouldn't happen before at least page ten.

  5. Definitely cut the first paragraph, and get right into the second paragraph because that's where the story starts, with Jack dreading the summer because of the arrival of The Fresh Air Kid. It would probably work better to introduce that conflict as something happening now, rather than having him flashback to telling the kids at school about it (as much as I like the line about the river trout), so have him actually go home and Calvin is there--or go home and have a fight with his parents about it--or even start with that scene at school told not as a flashback and build it from there. Good luck!

  6. The overuse of adjectives in the beginning is off-putting. Simple description is best. I was confused by most of it, and the sentences are a bit long and complex for MG. I liked the voice, but I didn't like the second half because his memories make it resemble a flashback. That makes it backstory, and there's no tension in backstory. It's better to know what he's doing/thinking now.

  7. What I liked: The writing felt confident. I liked that the narration was third person but had a sense of voice to it.

    What needed work: Very hard to grasp when the “present” of the story is taking place. We start with a false start to the day, then are dropped into what I assume is the present—Jack’s walk home—and then are transported back to earlier in the day when there’s info dumped in the form of a conversation. Hard to get a grasp on where we are, though Jack’s character, at least, is coming across decently for how few words are given to him.

    Would I read on based on this first page? If I were basing it on the level of the writing on a sentence level, then yes. If I were basing it on the clarity of the story, maybe not. The level of the writing wins out, however.

  8. As someone who lives in Vermont, I feel I should tell you that mountain air is never warm. Also, I feel like your paragraphs jump around a bit. Description of the sky, then Jack's attitude and the pop quiz, then jumping back earlier that day. It threw me off a bit. I feel like starting with his thoughts on sharing a room with a stranger for the summer would pull me in more. I like his voice, though.

  9. I like the style. It's original and different. I can see the writer's confident and doesn't want to blend in with the rest.