Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Secret Agent #35

GENRE: YA- Cotemporary

In a huddle on the edge of the icy sidewalk, before school, Adrianna handed me a worn black-cloth hardcover. I ran my bare finger along the spine. In silver it read, Go Ask Alice by Anonymous.

“You have to read it Pearl,” she said wearing a wild grin. Banned books are like chocolate for a wayward fifteen year old, especially one like me, who wants nothing more than out of this so-called life.

I didn’t part its yellowed pages for over six months. Life interrupted with my sweet sixteen- overrated, a failed Christmas, a dreary stretch of months that sloshed indecisively between seasons and then fled my mother’s abusive boyfriend to a battered women’s shelter. Afterward, we graduated to a homeless shelter. Unfortunately, Janet, my mother, failed to resist temptation and broke the no drugs rule. The big one. As the curtains came down on her shit show, I saw the appeal in Alice’s proposal. Escape.

While Janet returns to rehab for the sixth time, her rich brother, Uncle Gary, who waits impatiently outside for me, finally decided to intervene by sending me to boarding school. Perhaps he’s hoping to shake the city out of me or like they say, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ What he doesn’t realize is a girl like me does not belong in a preppy private school.

Before I add Go Ask Alice to my stack of books at the bottom of the cardboard packing box, I let the pages fall open.


  1. I really love Pearl, and I'm already rooting for her, but I think the opening would have worked even better for me if you had started with the fact that she's leaving her mom and rehab to go to boarding school (great hook) and then worked in Go Ask Alice.

    Also, one other (nitpicky) thing. I liked the "Banned books are like chocolate..." line, but I didn't think it worked in the opening given that she didn't open the book for six months.

  2. I agree with the above comment. The battered women's shelter being revealed as it did was a bit jarring. I would have liked that as the hook right away and then I felt like I would have been even more interested in Pearl and where she's going now having been through that.

    Right now, if she didn't open the book, the line about seeing the appeal in Alice's proposal doesn't work. Did she read it or not? I thought not.

    Interested in the idea!

  3. The idea here is promising, but it feels too cluttered. The paragraph about the past six months is too much to absorb this early. Janet going back to rehab is the important part.

    Not sure when this is set, but describing a book as a "black-cloth hardcover" seems old-fashioned.

    "While Janet returns to rehab..." That sentence seems grammatically iffy. Maybe "When Janet returned to rehab, her rich brother, my Uncle Gary, who is waiting impatiently outside for me right now, decided to intervene and send me off to boarding school." Or something like that.

  4. I can see the potential, but I felt like several different scenes were taking place in these 250 words. The best friend sharing the book, the women's shelter, rehab, inpatient uncle and returning to the book. All seeming to happen at the same moment.

    I wouldn't read on until after a good revision.

  5. agree with all the other critters. Second to last paragraph especially feels like an info dump, as if you're rushing to get to the next idea.

    Not sure homelessness goes with boarding school. They seem like two different worlds.

    Like her name, though. Give us her goal and you'll be off to a better start and a better hook.

  6. I think the contrast of homelessness and boarding school has potential since it is such a stark one. The mother who is so strung out that she can't care for her daugther is also replete with possibilities. So many young men and women probably find themselves in this situation but none, if any, get a rich uncle to bail them out. The fact that she does, yet somehow resents him and does not grab onto it makes me think this is an "apple does not fall far from the tree" story where she will embark on the same path as her mother instead of taking the gift. Any one of those three stories is an interesting and worthy one but it seems here you have tried to make all three into a stew and I think you need to focus on one of them. Plus, if you are going with a suicidal narrator who has been given a second chance at life (and a rare one that none of us really gets) but still wants to kill herself then you will have to deal with mental illness as a theme abd how some people are beyond reach and for that you would need the input of a experienced professional to make sure your narrative is accurate to a very common situation as it unfolds in real life.

  7. I found this sentence a bit confusing:

    "Life interrupted with my sweet sixteen- overrated, a failed Christmas, a dreary stretch of months that sloshed indecisively between seasons and then fled my mother’s abusive boyfriend to a battered women’s shelter."

    It actually reads as though the months fled to the homeless shelter. I think it needs a bit of work if you decide to keep it. But I would definitely keep the last three sentences of that same paragraph (even if you move them) - that is extremely evocative.

  8. You get to the emotional core of the character right away. I could tell where Pearl was at...and it felt very real.

    Go Ask Alice - now that's a blast from the past!

    You could, though, polish a little more. The "Life interrupted..." sentence doesn't work.

    I hope Pearl finds herself and would read on to find out.


  9. You've created some nice emotional content here, as well as some mood and tone. But you’ve started with back story, so what happens here is – a girl remembers.

    Perhaps start where you ended, with her packing, or even, maybe, arriving at the prep school. And then, as the story unfolds, unravel the back story a little at a time to keep the reader interested. And instead of preparing us to meet Uncle Gary and Mom, don’t mention them at all until they’re actually in a scene, and then let them speak and act and reveal who they are that way, rather than telling us in an info dump.

  10. I really like the tie-in with Go Ask Alice too and would probably keep reading just to see where you go with that. A couple of things that stood at to me. The line about "Banned books..." sounded like she was an adult looking back on her life as a teen, not as a teen experiencing it right now. I also thought you should start in a different place like the others said. I'd choose a scene to start off with and weave in the backstory with action and dialogue.

  11. Just Another YA AuthorJanuary 18, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Again, echoing Barbara's comment. This passage left me feeling disoriented, and too disinterested in anything to bother figuring it out.

  12. This all seems like backstory to me. It’s a nice emotional core for your MC, and I love the GO ASK ALICE reference, but I’d rather that you started at the boarding school, and feathered in this backstory throughout the novel. Or started with a scene with the MC and her mom. I’m not left with any real questions to hook me in.