Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March Secret Agent #22

TITLE: The Secret of Sagamore Hill
GENRE: Middle Grade Mystery

"Stay with the group, Rebecca!" Miss Richter hollered from up ahead.

But I couldn’t move. The soles of my sneakers felt like they were stuck to the pavement with bubblegum.

My class charged up the path to Sagamore Hill, but I wasn’t charging anywhere. Everything about this place reminded me of Dad.

“We don’t have all day, Rebecca!” My teacher tried again, waving her arms frantically.

I wanted to tell her that I didn’t need a guided tour of Theodore Roosevelt’s mansion—that I’d been here a million times before with Dad—at least before last May. But I decided to keep my mouth shut and forced myself to catch up with the rest of the class.

As 6th graders, we were all officially new to Oyster Bay Middle School. But I was in a different category of “new,” since I’d come from Oyster Bay Academy—a private girls’ school where Dad used to teach, and where my sister, Ava, and I had gone for free. But after he died suddenly last Memorial Day, Mom transferred Ava and me to public school. We couldn’t afford private school.

I trailed behind my classmates into the brisk October wind. The Roosevelt’s lawn was still green and stretched as wide as two football fields. When they had lived here, they never even had to mow it. They had had gardeners for that.

Not us. With Dad gone, I’d spent every other Saturday this summer behind a rumbling lawnmower, bits of grass clippings stuck to my sneakers.


  1. I already feel an emotional connection to you MC and the tension she's under. If there is something suspicious about her father's death, maybe hint at it. Otherwise, I'm relying on the title to draw me further into the mystery.

    In the sixth paragraph, I'd drop the last sentence and let your reader infer that.
    I'd read on to learn the 'secret'.

  2. I love this voice and the mystery of the mansion and her father. I suggest dropping the entire paragraph "As 6th graders," I don't think it was necessary right here as backstory and could be alluded to later in the story or shown in some other way. Having it placed there, took the energy out of the scene.

  3. I really like this. The voice is young, full of bitter feelings about the loss of her father, and the situation she's in. Right away, I'm hooked to this character and want to find out more about her. I think the back story about her father and her memories with him was clean, not clunky or pausing the story. It all happened naturally.
    Suggestions, there are couple times where the MC says things that are already implied, something the reader can figure out. For example, when the MC reveals she had to transfer to public school when she was previously going to private school for free. The fact that they could not afford private school is implied without the need of the ending sentence on the third to last paragraph. This happens again on the next paragraph where she's talking about how the Roosevelts never had to mow the lawn themselves. I think it's clear that someone else is doing the gardening for them without that last sentence at the end.

    Overall, I believe I'm hooked to this and I would read more. Best wishes!

  4. Excellent voice and tone.

    There is some tightening that could be done. E.g. the 'suddenly' throws off the rhythm of that line.

    I'm curious why the names for these two schools are so similar--even if they are in the same area. I'd expect the academy would have a 'special' name.

    I also wonder if Rebecca says Theodore rather than Teddy for a specific reason.

  5. Well written, but what's the problem? I get the emotional upheaval; new kid in new school, grieving for a parent. Is there a mystery involving her father's death? Is the Roosevelt mansion involved?

  6. I agree with Zigster about cutting the 'As 6th graders' parg. You're just getting the story going, then you stop it to fill us in. Get that info in later through dialogue and action. The same with the mowing. I'm guessing it's not real pertinent to the plot, and eliminating those sections gives you more room to get you mystery, or at least a hint of it, on .the first page.

  7. I felt like this was too much backstory.

    What if you did something like this:

    "Stay with the group, Rebecca!" Miss Richter hollered from up ahead.

    I trailed behind my new sixth grade class, as they headed into Theodore Roosevelt's mansion. The Roosevelt's lawn was still green...

    We don't need to know right up front that Dad dies in May or that she was in a private school and now she's poor, I don't think. You can weave those facts in slowly.

    When we meet someone for the first time we get to know their voice and we take in their appearance. And then slowly we learn their life stories. I think we need to get to know characters that way, too.

    You can show that her dad is gone by making her think about how she has to mow the lawn. you can show that she's poor by making her see some of her rich old friends and having them shun her or having her have a hole in her tennis shoe or whatever. The point is, if you show this, it will be more effective than having her just tell us this before we know her and care about her, I think.

  8. I should add that the writing is good and your character is good and the story has promise. I'm not saying that this isn't good. Just that the opening is not working for me.