Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January Secret Agent #25

GENRE: Contemporary YA

I went numb when she told me. I heard the news several hours after they found my mom, collapsed on the floor of our one-bedroom apartment. I’d been sketching monochromatic syringes and hearts when Mrs. Henks, my favorite teacher at ARTT (Artistic Rehabilitation for Troubled Teens), delivered the whispered account: “The maintenance man found your mother. They’ve rushed her to the hospital. I’m sorry.”

I went numb. I didn’t cry, though. I knew how much Mom wanted to die. God knows I’d heard it from the source on an almost daily basis. In between the false highs, the vomit and the slaps, I’d heard. I just wished I knew what I’d done to make her hate me so much.

Mrs. Henks offered to drive, and when we arrived at the hospital, the harsh morning light exposed the smudges across the glass doors. Past the automated whoosh of the entrance, my legs shifted into autopilot. I stepped inside a nearby elevator, my charcoal-stained finger jabbing the number for the psych floor. Strangers, who’d pressed in around us, noted the floor I’d pushed and inched away. As if crazy was contagious. Only Mrs. Henks stayed close.

As the elevator doors slid shut, I lowered my eyes to the checkerboard pattern on my Vans, willing myself invisible to everyone, including myself. With each stop, I wanted to stay inside my protective box, riding it up and down to nowhere. But the elevator soon delivered us to the sixth floor.


  1. This sample picks up in the second half. I'm curious about the charcoal-stained finger, and "As if crazy was contagious" is a nice line. I suggest cutting the first two paragraphs altogether. Good luck.

  2. I love how this throws us right in a huge life-altering moment. A few small things: I think you can cut one of the "I went numb" lines, the long name of the school is kind of jarring and seems unnecessary in the first paragraph, and I have a hard time believing she'd notice small details like the smudges on the window if she's numb. I think she becomes most alive to me in the second and fourth paragraphs, when we really get her reaction to everything that's happening. Good luck!

  3. I like the title, especially after what I've read. I think your descriptions are wonderful. I would read on as I'm interested in what may happen next.

    I agree with the comments above; this could use a little tightening. You've used the word "myself" twice in one sentence--this could simply work better as "willing myself invisible". If she went numb, no need to mention she didn't cry, as crying is related to some sort of feeling in that moment. When Mrs. Henks says "They've rushed her to the hospital. I'm sorry", my first thought was her mother died. You may consider revising that if that's not the case.

    Good work, and good luck! :)

  4. I agree with the others that you don't need to mention she went numb, especially twice. I think it speaks for itself. I also agree that it picks up in the second half. However, I think you do a great job in giving the reader a sense of emotions the MC is feeling. I also really like the line "as if crazy was contagious" I would definitely tweak the first couple of paragraphs but I think it's a good setup for the story!

  5. I'm going to disagree briefly with Iwrites: I thought noticing the finger smudges on the doors was a great, realistic detail. It seems to me that going numb allows you to notice mundane details, because your mind has shut off the other areas that are usually engaged, and giving more room for things that shouldn't matter. I thought that detail underlined your protag's numbness.

    This sentence could be clearer to me: "In between the false highs, the vomit and the slaps, I’d heard." False highs and vomit seem to be things that only include the mother, things observed or overheard by the protag, but slaps seems to indicate that the protag was a recipient. Somehow it would seem clearer to me if this list was one or the other-- does that make sense? Either a list of things the protag observed (and "heard" as a bystander) or things that were inflicted on the protag firsthand (thus rendering the "I'd heard" as a more sarcastic kind of understatement).

    Really powerful first page, though. Good luck!

  6. The opening isn’t quite as strong as it could be, although we do get emotion right away which is great. I’m not sure spoiling what happened in the first half of this sample, then going back to describe how it happened, it the best opener. Perhaps knowing that the MC is numb, but not that it’s because the MC’s mom is dead, would help build mystery and suspense as we read on. We’d know it was something traumatic, but not exactly why until the layers are pulled back as the chapter progresses. I’d also make sure when pitching this that you highlight how your contemporary YA is different from the others already out there that deal with events like this, to show how you bring something new to the table.