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Friday, May 17, 2013

Teen First Page Critique

Our TEEN FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE is 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 Elodie Nowodazkij, and here is the first page from her YA fiction GUILTY.

The first girl my father killed was sixteen—the same age I am today. My phone beeps with yet another news alert and my heart bubbles in my throat. “Death row inmate claims he´s innocent.” My eyes scan the article, stop on Pa´s face for a split second. He´s changed a lot. Physically, at least. But I´d bet a thousand spirit sticks he´d kill again if he could.

People laugh on the other side of the curtains and the girls from my squad not participating in the pageant chant our victory song. I should be with them and not stress-eating to fill a hole bigger than the Grand Canyon in my stomach. Shit. Delicious raspberry jam leaves a trail on my skin. I wipe it away as fast as possible and take another bite of my PB&J sandwich.

My gaze drifts to the other side of our make-up area. Malik´s interviewing a sophomore. His dimple shows and my stomach sinks.

Where the hell is Kelsey?

"Omigod, omigod. Super late."

Kelsey waves her arms and blows kisses to the dozens of other girls standing around, fidgeting in their fancy dresses. This pageant always has fierce competition. The boys wanted us in bikinis this year but they always want to see more skin. Mrs. Potter—our gym teacher—put her foot down. It was “evening gowns” or no money for the basketball team this year.

Kelsey shrugs off her coat. “Tadaaaaaa, What do you think?” A mini-dress way shorter than what the students´ handbook allows shows off her curves.

Here's what our teens had to say…

RANDI: Wow. Definitely did not expect to go from murder to pageantry. Darkly comic, and admittedly very interesting, even though I'm not into the fluffy stuff. I definitely would read more, and it definitely grabbed my attention. As far as authenticity, I'd need to see more to get a better idea, but it looks pretty good from here.

LEXIE: Well, it's definitely an attention-grabber.  I can say I would definitely read on, not only because the whole murderer-father is a pretty huge hook, but also because I find the writing very smooth and enjoyable.  It's an intriguing first page, and does a good job of setting up a good conflict in such a short period of time.  However, my one issue is that at several points it feels rather...disjointed.  For example, the first line is a shocker, but then it doesn't really transition smoothly into the rest of the paragraph.  Similarly, the introduction of Kelsey came off as a rather abrupt switch from the whole high-anxiety-murderous-father-stress-eating of the paragraphs before.  I'd just recommend going over the page and trying to smooth those transitions--otherwise, a very solid start.
LISSA: I don’t really understand what this story is about. The murdering of a teenage girl is a heavy topic, yet I don’t really follow why the tone of the first page is happy-go-lucky and relaxed. Would this girl really have friends, being the daughter of a killer? Would she really be shopping for dresses and joking around with her friends when her father is on trial for murder? My biggest issue is with the tone of the story, but otherwise, I like the metaphors - the “fill a hole bigger than the Grand Canyon” line made me smile. Still, I’d stay clear from “omigods” and “tadaaas” just because I think cutesy language like that can bother a reader really quickly, no matter how true to life that type of language is for teens today. All in all, I’d keep reading, even if just until the end of the chapter, to see where the story goes. I think there needs to be some reworking done with the tone, but otherwise, I believe the rest of the story will be cool :)

LYNSAY:  I like the contrast of the pageant with the death row inmate and killing thing. I assume that this girl is a cheerleader, you may want to make that a little clearer because when I read spirit sticks the first thing I thought was Native Americans. I know I know, that's just me, but I missed it at first. Maybe you could say something like, a thousand of my squad's most coveted spirit sticks or something like that. I think that reference needs a little more. It's really intriguing though. In the first page, I'm intrigued about the pageant and about the death row inmate father. One important question that was raised for me is, does everyone know that killer is her father? Does anyone know? I would love to read more.

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 Elodie! I know how scary it can be to put your work out there. Thank you for sharing this with all of us!


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