Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Secret Agent #25

GENRE: MG Magical Realism

The Fourth of July crackled and popped all around, but that wasn’t why Lily pressed her hands against her ears.

It also wasn’t because her stepdad Todd had just dropped a cherry bomb from his shaky hands. Even after Aunt Linda had said, “maybe you shouldn’t be lighting that Todd, you’ve had quite a bit to drink."

He’d only slurred a garbled answer and lit a match anyway. But Aunt Linda was right. Fire had brushed his fingers and down it fell.


Hitting the patio cement hard, its echoes still filled the yard. Uncle Sam had grabbed her cousin Michael away just in time.

No, it was her mom running from the house yelling, “That’s it! Things can't go on like this.” Lily squeezed her hands tighter, attempting to drown out her mom pleading—again.

So much for the best day ever. They were supposed to be celebrating not only the Fourth of July, but also her twelfth birthday.

Todd hardly reacted; he just wandered over to a folding chair. As he plopped down, his hand snagged the red, white, and blue tablecloth and Lily’s birthday cake went splat. He didn't even seem to notice. His head lolled over, his chin hit his chest, and a snore came out. 

Suddenly the festive decorations looked phony. Her mom had tried so hard. But who were they kidding? He ruined everything lately.

Lily slipped her hands from her ears and let them dangle.


  1. Good use of senses and the setting to show her reactions and the mood of the scene! Her world is exploding around her. I think there are a few words that could be cleaned up, and would suggest taking out the "supposed to be celebrating" line because you show the birthday in the next paragraph, and we watch it fall apart with Lily. Also having an Uncle Sam on 4th of July seemed weird but that may just be me ;)

  2. I thought this would work much better if you let it happen in real time. As is, everything has already happened, and we're told the first five pargs didn't even matter to Lily.

    If we see this all happening in real time - Lily's expectations for the day, her stepdad stumbling around drunk, cherry bomb in hand, Uncle Sam snatching up Michael as the cherry bomb explodes, mom complaining and Todd inadvertently snagging the tablecloth, and finishing the scene with the cake splat -if we get to see all this happen, rather than hear someone tell us it already happened, we are going to sympathize with Lily so much more. We're going to feel what she feels. It will be a much stronger, more effective, opening.

  3. The title of this hooked me in! I love the hint of what may be coming. This definitely sounds like a protagonist who would like a redo. In this scene, though, it was hard for me to keep track of so many characters introduced in such a short amount of time. I'd also suggest different verbs instead of crackled and popped to describe the fireworks. Crack, for instance, is stronger than crackled. I would love to read more!

  4. Who doesn't need a Do-Over? Great title. You have a large cast. And I agree with previous comments that this would be a really powerful opening scene in real time with dialogue and sound words. Perhaps you could try a version like that and see how you feel about it? You have given us MC, Lily who is 12. And from what is going on in her life, the reader is very sympathetic. Is the description of her drunk and callous stepdad, Todd, too graphic for MG readers? I'm not sure. See what other people think. I know this is a real life situation to many kid readers today.

  5. What a packed first scene! Lily wouldn't think "stepdad Todd," so maybe use Todd to begin with and then later say that her stepdad...whatever. Maybe you can trim down some characters. It's a bit overwhelming and hard to keep track of. The point to get across is that it's 4th of July AND her birthday, and her stepfather has just ruined it.

  6. Wow. That got real quick.

    Nice pace, nice setting, nice character background setup. I'm not sure you did so intentionally, but I also appreciated the correlation between her world exploding and it taking place on the fourth of July.

    I feel bad because I'm not even sure what to say. It pulled me in and kept me interested, and I'd definitely read more if there was more. Normally, I'd caution you about having so many characters introduced in such a short amount of time because that can cause reader confusion, but in this case, I think it adds the reader's building sense of tension which keeps them synced well with the overwhelmed feeling of the protagonist. That may also be because you pull us out of the confusion with the sobering reality of what's taking place.

    The drinking and fighting seem like a heavy topic for middle grade, but I don't think it's one that doesn't need to be explored in that readership.