Monday, September 10, 2007

It’s a Start, Part III

Welcome once again to “It’s a Start,” a semi-regular feature in which we examine the first sentence (or so) of five kids books randomly selected from the Acorn bookshelves. You can check out earlier editions here and here. (Note: Maximum number of stars = 5.)

Herculeah Jones was restless. She went to the window and looked up and down the street. Everything seemed normal, but she could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. Tarot Says Beware (A Herculeah Jones Mystery), by Betsy Byars

Hmm, I appreciate the mood, but the verbs are weak: “was” “looked,” “seemed” (though “shake” is a good one). This is the first paragraph. It’s supposed to draw in the reader. These verbs may cut it further into the book, but not here. Stars: ***

It was the last week of the summer, and I felt like I should be getting ready, but there I was on Ethan’s back porch again, playing Monopoly, just like most other days this summer. In fact, we were playing the same exact game we’d started in June. Gracie’s Girl, by Ellen Wittlinger

This one breaks two important rules. First, it starts on a normal day. I once heard an editor say that if your story starts with a kid’s alarm waking her up on a Monday morning, you need to ditch that beginning and start instead at the point where something unusual is happening. Mitigating factor: Wittlinger does hint that the character is expecting change … that she feels she should be getting ready for a new school year.

Second, this starts with backstory! We learn what these kids have been doing all summer. Whatever happened to “no backstory in the first X-number of pages”? Again, though, I have to give Wittlinger her props. She gives us backstory so skillfully, we may not even notice that’s what she’s doing. And the part about the same Monopoly game going on since June is plain funny, and perhaps a bit tragic (at least to this Monopoly hater). Stars: ***

Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster. The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

With all the attention given to a certain other sentence appearing on the first page of this book, I am glad to be able to give some credit where some serious credit is due: This is an awesome first sentence, from the main character’s name, to the terrific verb “crouched,” to the descriptive visual “wedge of shade,” to the location “behind the Dumpster” (and not just any dumpster, but a dumpster with a capital “D”)! I want to read on as much for the writing and the language as to find out why this kid is crouching behind the Dumpster. Stars: *****

I once believed life was a gift. I thought whatever I wanted I would someday possess. Green Angel, by Alice Hoffman

Full disclosure: I adore Alice Hoffman and devour everything she writes, but I hated this book. Just not my thing. That said, this opening does set the mood for what is a haunting YA novella. Aside from setting a mood and giving a glimpse of the main character, it doesn’t do much to pull me in. Stars: **

To snoop or not to snoop…. That’s no question. Whether it’s smarter to let sleeping dogs lie or to plunge in and follow a clue, I always do the same thing: Follow the clue. Give My Regards to Broadway (A Chet Gecko Mystery), by Bruce Hale

Love it! Anyone who enjoys mysteries has to love a snooper. And the first sentence’s take-off on Shakespeare is perfect for a story set on the stage of a school production of Omlet, Prince of Denver. Stars: *****


Katia said...

Hi Linda, I like this feature. Funny, because I've been researching first sentences, these past few days. I can't resist posting that one, from Each Little Bird that Sings, by Deborah Wiles.
"I come from a family with a lot of dead people." 5 stars, wouldn't you say?

LindaBudz said...

Nice one ... five stars, indeed! Feel free to post any you like. I love learning from them!

Lauren said...

Did you notice Nathan Bransford is holding a first line contest on his blog? He should call you to help him judge!

LindaBudz said...

Thanks for the heads up, Lauren! I'll have to stop over there. And if Nathan wants me, he can have me. As a judge, I mean, of course!

SamRiddleburger said...

Good stuff, nut...

Dumpster with a capital D drives me crazy.
See, at the newspaper they won't let you write "dumpster" since "Dumpster" is a trademark. They want you to write "Dumpster."

But, to me, that would mean that I had checked the dumpster to make sure it was a bona fide Dumpster. I don't have a clue how to check dumpster, nor am I likely to want to do such a thing while trying to report a story.

But what else can you call it that's not awkward clumsy and possibly misunderstood? Plexiglass is a similar problem. "The subject threw a trnaslucent plastic-glass panel into the large metal trash bin. He then fled on foot."

LindaBudz said...

How about, "The subject cut his hand while throwing a translucent plastic-glass panel into the large metal trash bin, so he may be wearing a small flesh-colored adhesive bandage on his left hand."