Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January Secret Agent #44

GENRE: YA Contemporary

If you want something, take it.

This was what Amy chanted to herself as she stepped behind the block in lane six. The 100 free was the last event at Swim Philadelphia’s August Invitational. If she didn’t qualify for Junior Nationals during this race, come September she’d be forced to enroll in her local high school. If she did qualify, she’d spend freshman year on scholarship at Heartdale Prep, the school for elite-level swimmers that her three older siblings attended.

Not getting into Heardale wasn’t an option. Amy’s favorite Heartdale shirt, the one she slept in every night, was signed “you can do it!” by a freshman she met at one of Cat’s swim meets when she was eleven. Every night before bed, she watched YouTube videos that showed off the school’s campus. Every morning before getting up, she whispered Heartdale’s motto, “Anyone can be an Olympian,” into her pillow.

Cheers bounced across the pool deck. Banners waved and cameras popped, but Amy’s gaze stayed locked on the athletes in the water. The girl in lane five flipped, leading her heat into the fourth and final lap of the race. Her streamline was rigid, her dolphin kicks tight and powerful. Amy didn’t know her name, but she knew the desperation on her face. It wasn’t the shallow desire that played, sharp and hopeful, across your skin for a few months. This was a want that burrowed deep into your brain when you were young, shaping your face and the bones behind it.


  1. I really love how we learn about Amy and her motivation to get into this school, as well as all the pressure she's placing upon herself to do exactly this, and all that in the FIRST paragraph. Great job!

    I'm not sure what "the 100 free" is, but if it's an event, shouldn't it be "The 100 Free"? And I wonder who this freshman she met at Heartdale was/is, just someone random or someone who's well-known in the swimming arena?

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  3. I swam on private and school teams all the way through college and I felt such a kinship with Amy! The swim jargon is dead on. I LOVE the first line of this. Sucked me right in. I wanted to immediately know what was wanted, what would be taken...

    The ending of this is powerful, the last few lines specifically, and I think this excerpt could benefit from moving those feelings up. I want to know more about Amy and her emotions before I hear about what would happen if she doesn't qualify and about her sisters and the schools. I want to know more about her in order for me to really care about the stakes.

  4. This is really good. I liked the logical progression of events and Amy's thoughts about the girl she's watching in the pool. I want to read how you'll portray Amy when she competes. And I'm already rooting for her to get into Heardale!

  5. I love the description, and I love the voice and the stakes, all set up so succinctly!
    I do wonder how our main character is feeling about all of this--she's clearly putting a lot of pressure on herself. Is she freaking out internally? If not, how does she calm herself down?

  6. I love how I get an immediate sense of the stakes for Amy heading into the story, as well as her voice coming through. (In third person, which is tricky!) I agree with Christine that perhaps clarifying what the 100 free is would help non-swimmer readers, although I do get that we readers are experiencing this scene through Amy's mind/vocab. It's a hard balance, but maybe food for thought since this is the beginning of the novel. The last line is SO evocative - gah, I love it so much. And the concept of siblings that swim and attend this prestigious school... I could see it already. Who is the freshman she met at that meet, though? Someone random or a character in the book?

  7. Ah! Very powerful opening!

    Maybe instead of saying This was what Amy chanted, you could say something along the lines of ‘The words were a chant in Amy’s head’

    I love that last paragraph, gives me all the feels! You did a great job investing us in Amy and her immediate future and I’m sure anyone reading this is already rooting for her to win the race!

  8. Great intro into her goals and the setup for school. (Seems a bit too obsessed with the place imo but that shows her character well)
    I agree the open paragraph should not start with "This was". Maybe "Amy chanted the words to herself..."
    FYI: The 2nd "Heartland" has a typo. And I think "heat" is incorrect in the last para. "leading her team?"

  9. Well, she certainly knows what she wants lol. I did stop at the every night she watches videos of the campus on You Tube part...I was curious like what every night for the last week before the competition or every night for 6 years. I mean, someone needs to let that girl branch out a bit!

    But, I am not sure if someone getting into a certain school is enough meat for a novel, so I am hoping there is much much more to it!

  10. Your first and last lines are fantastic! I'm not sure if you're setting her up to fail here (the evil part of me kinda wants her to) but I'm invested enough to want to find out!

  11. Amy's desire and pressure is very apparent and you did a great job in presenting what it is! Maybe add some 'right now' internal emotion to it. And who is Cat? One of the siblings? I'd love to experience more of the atmosphere and how she's able to block it to gaze on the swimmer in lane five. Focus like that takes skill :)

    Psst... double-check for Heartdale in second mention: "Not getting into Heardale wasn’t an option."

    I love stories about athletes and you have a great starting place here!

    1. I meant: you start in a great place for the opening.

  12. You have some great turns of phrase in here! I really like "It wasn’t the shallow desire that played, sharp and hopeful, across your skin for a few months. This was a want that burrowed deep into your brain when you were young, shaping your face and the bones behind it."

    I'm a little hesitant about starting the story with an explanation of why she wants into this school, because it's exposition instead of action. I think you could start with the swimmers and then explain why they're all so desperate later, just by tweaking the order a little bit.

  13. Great setup. To avoid an info-dump, I’d just say: “If she didn’t qualify for Junior Nationals today… no, not getting into Heardale wasn’t an option.”
    That last paragraph is just about perfect. And I can’t believe I’ve never read a YA about an Olympic hopeful before. What a great setup! I’d definitely keep reading.

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