Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On The Block Concession Crit #9

TITLE: Below Rock Bottom
GENRE: YA Mature Young Adult

Regina’s future at Yale is threatened by a family history project when she has no family and by getting raped by a man who has ties to her past. If she can’t find the strength to face her rapist, she will lose her scholarship, Thomas and possibly her life.

Mrs. Crandall’s mustache twitched. I couldn’t concentrate on her lecture, thinking instead about the different kinds of home wax kits I could secretly leave in her desk drawer. It was only first period, and already my attention span needed a Snicker’s bar.

“Moving to the last business of the day,” Mrs. Crandall said while waddling to the front of the chalkboard. “Your term project is worth forty percent of your grade, so I would pay attention or you won’t be walking across the stage come graduation.”

She passed out pink instruction papers, her mustache flexing and stretching as she over-exaggerated her vowels. The more she talked, the more I felt like I was in one of those end of the world movies. The project was on family history and the paper was filled with questions about each side of our family and “important events that helped shape what your family is today.”

Ugh. What a bore-fest. I scanned the room while fiddling with the button on my Polo shirt. No one else seemed to be more than slightly annoyed or completely screwed over like I was. Was I really the only seventeen year-old with a dysfunctional family secret? Just how was I supposed to do research on a non-existent family? My father had disappeared right after the umbilical cord was cut. I didn’t know if he was the captain on a pirate ship off the coast of Africa, or a secret agent of some underground criminal gang.


  1. The pitch has a few problems. First, it's hard to believe not having a family for a history project could jeopardize her future at Yale. I'm positive they have alternative for that. Also equating a school project to rape (which is how the first sentence sounds) made me wince. And who's Thomas?

    From the pitch, I thought she was in college already, not high school.

    However, I like the first page a lot! I like her reactions and how it played out.

  2. I don't usually comment on loglines but the introduction of Thomas made me scratch my head.

    I was a bit turned off by this entry, mostly because of the main character's body shaming of the teacher. The teacher doesn't seem mean, or bad or anything, so the character's continued focus on her mustache and how she waddles just makes her come off as mean-spirited to me. And I'm a HUGE fan of unlikeable female main characters in YA fiction. LOVE THEM. But in this case, I don't think it's an intentional unlikeability, which turns me off.'

    I think the opening paragraph could use some work as well. It seems like there are 2 hook sentences fighting each other for the space as well as some repeated information, which made me feel a bit whiplashed.

    Like, Mrs. Crandall’s mustache twitched is a good hook. And so is " It was only first period, and already my attention span needed a Snicker’s bar." and because of what's in between, they fight each other. We don't need to know that she can't concentrate on the lecture because you're already showing us that by her focus on the mustache and the snicker's bar line.

    But, otherwise, I'm very interested in reading about older YA and the pitch has me intrigued.

  3. Great voice - it jumps off the page! I am also a little thrown by the logline. Is it that she doesn't have a family for the family history project (which, I agree, wouldn't jeopardize her grade, as the teacher would be able to find an alternative) or her being raped, or both, that's keeping her from Yale? And who is Thomas? I like the excerpt a lot (I am also a big fan voice-y, potentially unlikeable characters in YA), but based on just the logline, I was too confused to want to continue reading.

  4. I agree with everyone else, your logline is what really needs work. I would find a better way to mention not knowing anything about her family if that's a big plot point. And either don't mention Thomas or explain who he is. Also I was confused about the rape? Because I feel it's important to know if this is something that happened before the book starts or during the book (it could completely reshape your logline depending on which it is) and I didn't know which it was. Lastly, I suggest deleting "already my attention span needed a Snicker’s bar" because it's not needed.

  5. I have a very clear picture in my head of Mrs. Crandall, but admittedly I don't really like Regina very much--she seems like kind of a jerk. I'd continue reading to find out if Regina has a real reason to be a mean girl. All that said, the pitch was confusing. More details? Different details? I'm not sure, but it needs a bit more clarity.

  6. Some things about your first paragraph made me waver, and then this stopped me cold: Snicker's bar. Because it's not a Snicker's bar. It's Snickers, no apostrophe. And yes, sometimes something that small can take a reader out of the story and make them stop reading. Double-check everything.

    But I also don't like the mean tone: home wax kit, waddling, over-exaggerating her vowels, bore-fest. Three and a half paragraphs in, and all you've done is make the main character sound like a spoiled twat. We don't know what the book is about and don't know until the last line that this person doesn't know her father, which is the one thing that made me sit up and pay attention.

    Don't waste this much real estate on the opening page on this stuff - get to your main character or the meat of the book or something intriguing. Your logline makes this sound a much more serious book than this page suggests, so one or the other is out of sync (and the logline sounds a bit thrillerish, which is fine if that's what you're writing, but make sure tone and description and logline all match, so to speak).

    What's here doesn't make me want to keep reading, but I think this page isn't doing your manuscript justice.

  7. Even though Regina's snarky and mean to poor Mrs. Crandall, I liked her voice. To me, though, this read a little more like a funny young adult novel instead of a more serious, mature young adult book where the MC is going to be raped.

  8. I found myself at odds with the intense tone of the pitch compared to the sarcastic tone of the MC. My daughter is in high school and has never made fun of her teachers in this way, (I'm one of those nosy parents who read their children's texts) so I found the berating tone a bit off-putting. But I think the MC has voice--I'm just not sure she's expressing herself in a way I can identify with.

  9. The good news is there is conflict and stakes, but I don't see them presented well in the hook.
    My reaction to the hook is as follows:
    Wow, that's a lot going on in the hook. I think maybe too much because it's not clear. Having a family history project and then rape is a neck snapper. I don't see that the history project is that important. What I am hearing is, Regina must face her rapist or . . . Lose her scholarship? How's that? Thomas? Who's that? (her boyrfriend, yeah I get it, but still, not clear) And her life? You have more explaining to do. Her life tacked on the end feels like a last ditch effort to crank up the stakes.

    First lines are important. Do something besides set a mustache twitching with it. So, I see the main character is a humorous student, that's good. The next paragraph is full of story promise, do this or that bad thing will happen. Love it.
    I agree with her question, Was I the only one with a dysfunctional family secret? No, she isn't. But also, with this much anxiety, it's not a 'bore-fest' to her. It's high stakes.
    but all that aside, the story is interesting and I'd read along for awhile longer.


  10. The MC struck me as mean spirited and whiny. Perhaps, instead of making fun of Mrs. Crandall, she could give more thought to her own situation, and make it seem more dire than it currently seems.

    The project doesn't seem like much of a problem. Even if she has no family now, she once did, and she could write about them. If she lives with relatives or a foster family, she could write about them. And as others have said, she could do an alternative project. Perhaps don't use the project as your hook. Perhaps start the story closer to the rape. That's a major hook.