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. This month's brave volunteer is Katherine Locke, and here is the first page from her YA WIP.
My hand wraps around the string of the balloon. I feel a sharp jerk right between my ribs on my left side, and everything spins black.
I am standing in a small, dark wet alley, holding the balloon. I can’t breathe. I am sure I am dead but my heartbeat is roaring in my ears too loud to ignore. I cannot be dead. I don’t know where I am, but I don’t let go of the balloon. Everything around me looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it. The alley is narrow and curves, sliding between old stone buildings, slush dripping off roofs. My feet are freezing. I’m standing in several inches of snow. I shiver and wrap my arms around me, the balloon bobbing in the air. I step backwards, pressing against the building. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what happened. I think maybe I’ve slipped and fallen. Maybe I have a concussion. My brother Matt had a concussion once when he fell while playing basketball.
I don’t know where I am and I listen for voices, but everything around me is still. Snow falls, illuminated by street lamps at the end of the alley to my left at what looks like a major road. The silence feels heavy. I don’t hear dogs, or children, or people. Wherever I am, it is abandoned. I’m not sure I should move. If I don’t know where I am, or why I’m here, I don’t want to move. I think I can’t move. I’m freezing in my tights, leg warmers, and skirt. When I left Berlin—did I leave?—it was daytime and a little warmer. But now, despite my peacoat and my hat and mittens, I am freezing. My legs shake violently. I can’t tell if I’m nervous or cold or both.
A shadow slips across the end of the alley under the streetlight before I see a slim, dark figure cross over the alley. I stay perfectly still, but the figure slows, stops, and turns towards me. I hold my breath, pressing myself back into the shadows. Then there’s a small gust of wind, and the red balloon pulls at the string, swirling at the end of its tether in a burst of snow. I gasp as the figure begins to run towards me. I spin and stumble, trying to run in the snow. My feet slip, and I am cold and uncoordinated, running into the dark and away from the light.
The figure snaps something in German. I can’t find the breath to scream as a hand grabs my arm and forces me against the wall. A hand comes over my mouth. My scream is muffled. My wrist hurts where he has twisted it and slammed it against the wall. I can’t see his face, hidden by a billowy loose hood. His hand is masculine, with firm, long, thin fingers. I can’t breathe but I can move. I draw my right knee up sharply between his legs. He gasps and lets go of my wrist. He shifts slightly and his body weight lifts, freeing me from the wall. I spin to run and he snaps again in German. I scramble, slip, fall, and get up again, the snow soaking through my tights.
He says something again, in a different language, and I don’t turn around. Then he calls out to me, his voice hoarse and his accent strangely perfect, “Who are you? Why do you have Garrick’s balloon?”
Here's what our teens had to say…
ERICA: There is definitely an intrigue factor going on here. The focus on the balloon was atypical, so I was intrigued by that. I want to read more to find out what is going on, who the main character is, and more importantly why is this balloon so important.
LEXIE: I'm definitely curious about this one. It does make me want to read on, but mostly because I feel so completely in the dark. Plunging the reader right into the middle of the action is always a risky strategy, and it can work excellently--drawing the reader in from the get-go, setting a fast, exciting pace, etc.--but you also risk too much confusion. While I'm intrigued by this page, I wanted at least a LITTLE more of a sense of what was going on; we don't need an info dump, but at the moment, I don't know who the main character is, what they do, how old they are, what the feel or plot of this will be. Those aren't things that need to be spelled out, but we as the reader need to get at least some sense of the novel we're about to read. Also, along that line, I feel that the very beginning is too abrupt. I felt like I began in the middle of something; those two sentences didn't give me the sense that I was at the very beginning of a novel.
Despite my qualms, though, I'm definitely interested by this first page (particularly since it's set in Germany--we could always use more foreign settings!) and I think I'd read on.
CHIHUAHUA ZERO: The writer of this page definitely got mood down, along with a strong voice. It comes from the long paragraphs and short, sharp sentences. I can also feel the narrator's panic. Little bits of information are also weaved in. The biggest flaw I would say is that cause-and-effect is briefly muddled in the second-to-last paragraph, but it's nothing major. While the page isn't a total grabber, I would read ahead to see what's next.
Hope this helps! And I hope this feedback is insightful for our readers as well! HUGE thank yous to our SPIES and ANALYSTS and to Katherine! 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 in a few weeks. Stay tuned!
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