Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Secret Agent #35

GENRE: MG Contemporary

Summer vacation called kids to the edge of their seats. But I leaned back and stretched my legs, sliding low in my chair like a turtle ducking inside a shell.

“We’re free!” Maddie bolted from her desk the second the last bell rang. “C’mon, Brianna,” she squealed. “It’s summer!”

“Hold on,” I said, yanking the sticky zipper on my backpack.

My sneakers dragged as I packed pieces of fifth grade: broken crayons, old notebooks, a dried-up glue stick.

Maddie squeezed my shoulder. “We’re gonna have fun,” she said, her eyes pleading. “Hang out every day together, maybe even go to day camp.”

“Yeah,” I said, my palm hitting air as it half-slapped hers.

Maddie looked over at me a million times during our half-mile walk. “You know what we should do?” she said, her face suddenly brightening. “Stop at Dairy Whip and get one of those chocolate dipped cones. I’ve got five dollars.”

“Let’s go later,” I said, swallowing the taste of vanilla soft serve, already swirling inside my mouth. “Mama said I’m supposed to go straight home.”

Maddie’s lips tightened for a half-second before curling into a smile. “I really hope you can go to camp. We’re gonna swim in Memorial Pool and grill hot dogs on sticks.”

“Me too,” I said, my voice cracking along the edges. I stared at the almost-hole in my left shoe, my big toe wiggling under the frayed fabric.


  1. The first sentence threw me (called kids to the edge of their seat.) However, I think you did a great job showing that your MC is poor and not likely going to camp with Maddie (that's my guess anyway). Great job.

  2. Although I get a good feeling of the character from this opening, I felt like some of her actions were out of sequence.

    1. Hiding in chair
    2. Pulling zipper on backpack
    3. Walking (implied by sneakers dragging) while she packs stuff into her backpack (but didn't she already close it?)
    4. Jump to finishing the walk home (since you sum it up)

    These actions distracted me from the conversation, which does a good job of establishing the two characters. You might even start with the walk home and then weave in some of the imagery later.

    Good luck!

  3. As it's written right now, the voice strikes me as an adult looking back wistfully at childhood rather than a fifth-grader living it.

    If this were a different genre, I think I'd be hooked because I like your voice. It just doesn't seem authentic for MG.

  4. I think you should focus on your MC for the first sentence instead of the class. Then pull back and show how different her reaction is to the others.

    Is she sad just because she's poor and can't go on the trip? That makes her a bit shallow. I think most 5th graders would be excited to be out of school regardless of what activities she can afford.

    You've done a good job showing that she is poor but you forgot to give her an endearing quality. You have to make the reader fall in love with her. You have to give her a little spark that makes people want to read on. Good luck!

  5. Ditto Michelle's comments. The action tags are distracting me from the conversation, especially the descriptions of Maddie's facial expressions.

    The voice was really unique. I don't know why it feels older than MG, but as Karen says, it does. I wouldn't say quite old enough to feel adult, but verging on YA definitely. I get the MG age from Maddie's dialogue, but maybe it's just that your MC seems mature/worldly for her age that makes me feel like she's older? For me it wasn't exactly a problem, just interesting.

    In any case, I'd read on. It just struck me how little MG contemporary I've read...

  6. This is nice - I already feel bad for the MC (I am assuming some sort of family or money problems is the reason for her ambivalence). Nice voice and writing. Good job!

  7. I liked this one. You've done a nice job introducing your protagonist. I thought it flowed fine and had a nice voice. I would definitely read on.

  8. I thought the story line could be interesting, but the writing needed work.

    The turtle should be crawling into 'its' shell rather than a random shell.

    Maddie bolts from her desk but doesn't go anywhere. Is that realy bolting?

    Her sneakers are dragging (implying movement) while she stands and packs (not moving)

    Then they're on their way home, but they never left the classroom or the school.

    I also wonder if Brianna might be too depressed. Maddie is going out of her way to brighten her up, and she continues to be as depessed as eeyore. We don't even see a glimpse of a smile or a bit of hope. I couldn't stick with her through an entire novel. Perhaps at least give her a bit of hope?

  9. You have some good details here that bring the scene to life, but as others have pointed out, some phrases are also distracting. What I liked: the sticky zipper, the list of pieces from fifth grade, the left shoe description.

    I'd like to know a little bit about what she's dreading in these first 250 words.

  10. There's a lot to like here. A few sentences read awkward to me, and I wasn't sure if it was intentional, or a typo. "Packed pieces of fifth grade," for example. Packed away, or packed up might be less awkward. "Half-mile walk." Walk where? Home, I assume. But again, it was just a tad awkward.

    I loved many of the details you added - Maddie's lips tightening before she smiles (she's upset/annoyed and you show it instead of telling us), Brianna's toe almost popping out of the shoe. Nicely done!

    One odd question - is Dairy Whip a regional ice cream joint, or were you substituting for Dairy Queen? If it's the latter, I'd just use Dairy Queen. There's no reason you can't use the trademarked name, and a substitute just stands out, where otherwise it would blend in.

  11. For me, there is too little efficiency with words. We get the idea quite quickly that Brianna isn’t looking forward to summer like she is supposed to, likely because she’s poor; I don’t feel there is a need to drag that revelation on. It makes me worry that the manuscript would be longer than it needs to be.