It's time for our Teen First Page Critique, a monthly feature here at YA Confidential that lets you get feedback on your manuscript from your target audience: real teen readers.
"Kimi!" I scream into my headset as we fly over the valley. "I can't believe I let you talk me into doing this!" The tiny helicopter we're sitting in cuts a sharp right. I'm now staring down at the flat ground of doom below.
"Relax and enjoy the ride, Eve." Kimi's staticky voice sizzles into my earphones. If it weren't for these things on my ears, I wouldn't be able to hear a word she’s saying.
"Don't worry, girls," the pilot reassures us. "We're taking her down now."
"I thought you'd love it up here, Eve." Kimi’s voice crackles into my ear. She's sitting right beside me, her long black hair is slightly pushed back by her headset. I can see her lips moving as she speaks, but it's still weird how her voice seems to be inside my head. "You always say you want to get out of town," she adds.
"Yeah, but not straight up into the air!" I hold tight to my earphones with both hands. Staring out the window as the ground nears makes me feel woozy.
"The forest looks so thick from up here."
Kimi's right. It's no wonder I feel cloistered at home. Our town is bordered on its North and South sides by two thick forests. Hence the name of the town being called Twin Forest. Both lines of trees meet in the East, exactly opposite the mountain range to the West.
Finally, we land.
When Charlie the pilot opens the door I rip off my headset and tumble out of the helicopter.
"You better not get on your knees and kiss the ground, Eve." Kimi has appeared from around the other side of the chopper. "Not even you could be that dramatic!"
"I should have known I was afraid of heights," I grumble. "I can't even go off the high dive at the swimming pool."
I hear Charlie laugh as he walks away. "It's not funny," I yell after him. He waves me off with his hand, already approaching the next customers in line for a helicopter ride.
Kimi and I walk down the small hill and ease our way onto a dusty track. It's soon made even dustier by the boy who's running toward us.
Alfie skids to a halt in front of us, kicking up more dry dirt. "Are you coming to the rodeo this year, Kimi?" He takes off his brown ten gallon cowboy hat and runs a hand through his fluffy blonde hair.
"Not if Eve doesn't want to." Kimi replies to Alfie, but she doesn't look at him. She's too busy pushing a rock around on the ground with the toe of her shoe.
"Aww, shucks," Alfie says, looking depressed. "But Eve never wants to come to the rodeo."
I take immediate offense to that. "Because it's mean!" I shout. "I don't like seeing baby cows strung up by their feet, thank you very much."
"The calves like it though."
I grab Alfie's hat and whack him on the arm with it. "They do not! How would you like it if I tied you up right here and now?"
"I wouldn't care if Kimi wanted to tie me up."
I've never seen Kimi's face light up so red. I think she's so embarrassed that she's starting to get tears in her eyes. This is just before she storms off. "I was thinking about coming to the rodeo this year!" She throws these words over her shoulder at us. "But I'm not gonna now!"
"Oops," I say, slamming Alfie's hat onto his head. "Guess you blew it again, cowboy."
Here’s what our teen SPIES had to say…
ERICA: I was intrigued by what was going on - I really wanted to know more about what was going on. So in that sense it did grab me. The rodeo part was more what grabbed me. Without knowing more, I wasn't sure what the point of the helicopter was.
REBECCA: It’s got potential but it doesn’t feel like a first page, it feels like I’ve walked in on the middle of the story.
LENNON: This is kind of strange. I don't really know where it is leading but that's kind of what makes it interesting. It's also kind of dry but fresh in a way I've never read. I'm drawn in but I'm not entirely sure why, if that make's any sense.
KATIE: I read the first four paragraphs and then started skimming. This piece of work didn’t pull me in. There are too many paragraphs as well for the first page. They need to be longer, otherwise the reading is broken up and doesn’t flow. Also there is too much talking going on. Almost every new line starts with quotations or some form of I. The conversation is interesting but there just too much of it. This feels really choppy. I would not continue to read.
LISSA: This was an interesting first page although I'm not sure, at this point in development, that I'd keep reading. On one hand, I enjoyed the dialogue and the way it introduced the characters as Kimi, the snarky one, Eve, the more cautious-y one. Also, I'm getting the sense that this book is a contemporary and I'm loving that!
Yet, while I also like that the story progressed quickly and that the first page wasn't slow with too many explanations and that it opened with action, I do feel like the story is moving too quickly without providing explanation - why were they on the helicopter and what's the significance of the helicopter, aside from introducing the town? why did Alfie show up out of nowhere, what does the rodeo have to do with the town and the scenery that's explained and the helicopter ride? Obviously, scenes with no relation to other scenes are going to happen - and maybe, because I only read the first page, I don't yet KNOW the significance of the first scene - but I think that a first page needs to be strong enough to bring us fully into the story with an interesting scene that is more closely related to what the story is about. In the beginning, I got the feel that the book was going to be about how Eve feels trapped in her town, but then when Alfie was introduced and the rodeo was mentioned and Kimi got mad (I felt for an odd reason), I didn't understand what any of that had to do with anything that had just been introduced.
I think that with development, this will be a great, funny story with an interesting message, but at this point, I wouldn't keep reading for long.
LYNSAY: Well I thought this was a pretty decent start. I love the cowboy/rodeo aspect. You don't always see a lot of that, so I'm curious to see how much the book is related to that and how often it comes into play. Also, starting out with a helicopter ride is a nice touch. It's very original.
Hope this helps, Suz! And I hope this feedback is insightful for our readers as well! I know it was for me. HUGE thank yous to our Spies and to Suz! I know how scary it can be to put your work out there. Thank you for sharing this with all of us!
We'll be doing another call for first pages week in a few weeks. Stay tuned!