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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: UNTITLED YA CONTEMPORARY


Today’s First Impression post comes from Kate Brauning.  This is the first page of her untitled YA contemporary:
My mom was a pothead in college. I’m convinced this is how we got to where we are now. I’ve seen her college pictures- denim shorts and waist-length braids. A guy-stopping smile.
People say we look alike, but I don’t have the smile or the hair. I do wear jean shorts nine months out of the year, but I refuse to do the braids. Braids make redheads look like Pippi Longstocking.
I was wearing jean shorts the day I first saw Sylvia. I was glad I’d chosen them that morning, since they look good on me. Sylvia Young walked across the grass to our roadside produce stand, each step of her sandaled feet bringing closer the ruinous end of my contentment. I knew she was bringing the ruinous end of my contentment because I saw Marcus tilt his head.
He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He tilted his head that way any time he saw my tank-top tan line or I wore an above-the-knee skirt. I narrowed my eyes.
 “Hi,” she said. “I’d like a cabbage and six tomatoes.” Just like that. She wanted a cabbage and six tomatoes.
Marcus arranged them in brown paper bags. He carefully creased the tops of the bags. “Are you from around here?”
Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she was.
“Just moved from St. Joseph. I’m Sylvia Young.” She smiled. She was dark haired with gorgeous high cheekbones and she seemed perfectly friendly. My contentment exhaled its dying breath.
“Going to Manson High in the fall?” He handed her the bags.
“Yep. My dad is going to teach science.”
I smiled. Manson High went through teachers with alarming regularity. “Four bucks.”
“Sorry?” Sylvia turned away from Marcus. “Oh. The vegetables.” She handed me ones and looked over the radishes. “This looks like great produce. Are you here every day?” Her eyes strayed to Marcus as she said it.
“Every afternoon,” he said. A ten-acre hobby farm produced a lot of vegetables.
“Okay, I’ll see you in a day or two, then.”
There are a lot of things I really like about this opening.  I like that we don’t need to be told that Marcus is the narrator’s boyfriend or at least her crush. We can tell by her reaction to the way he responds to Sylvia.  I also LOVE the way Sylvia completely ignores the narrator during her conversation with Marcus and is actually startled when the narrator names the price and asks for the money – like she forgot there was another person there. Perfect!
What doesn’t work as well for me is the segue from the pothead mother and “where we are now” to the jean shorts and Sylvia.  Based on the first paragraph, I thought we were going to learn more about the narrator’s mother and how being a pothead in college led to life choices that make her daughter unhappy today.  But then we shifted to jean shorts, and I’m not sure why the narrator was happy to be wearing them since they didn’t distract Marcus from the new girl at all.
Two smaller points are: I think you need to use Sylvia’s whole name the first time she’s mentioned rather than the second, and the phrase “the ruinous end of my contentment” is perhaps not right for this narrator’s voice.  It sounds Victorian.
My suggestion for this page is either: A. Keep the opening about the pothead mother and explain more about how that life choice has affected the narrator and landed her at the produce stand – or (and I think I prefer this) B. Start with Sylvia Young approaching the produce stand and save the back story on the pothead mother until we actually meet her. What do readers think?
Kate, thanks so much for sharing your first page with us today!  Don’t forget to check out Marcy’scritique, and you can find Kate at The Bookshelf Blog.

15 Responses to First Impressions: UNTITLED YA CONTEMPORARY

  1. i disagree about explaining more about effects of pothead — i immediately began to sum up those effects — no need to remind — wait i’m having a flashback :)— now i got munchies and paranoia —why are you looking at me?

    i’m OK now 🙂

  2. Suze says:

    So much feedback to be had …

  3. Linda G. says:

    Great voice! Definitely snagged my interest.

    (Okay, now I want to visit a vegetable stand.)

  4. AmyMak says:

    Good job, Kate! It’s great to put yourself out there for all of us to critique you 🙂 I would move pothead to a different spot too, only b/c the rest of the opening is not about the opening. That said, the first sentence is a grabber.

    Great lines about Marcus tilting his head and the detail you give: “He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He tilted his head that way any time he saw my tank-top tan line or I wore an above-the-knee skirt.” Love that.

  5. I agree on all points that Dianne said. I was intrigued with the opening, but then it kind of changed directions. Plus, I felt some of the repetition could be cut. Those part felt off.

    I would definitely keep reading. 😀

  6. mshatch says:

    See, this is why it’s fun to have two people crit your work. Because they both find/notice different things. I completely agree with Dianne about the beginning. I would prefer this start with Sylvia’s entrance into the narrator’s life since it seems like that might be where things change for the narrator. And now that Dianne mentions it, I like the fact that we aren’t told that the narrator is Marcus’ gf, too. It’s a nice change plus when she mentions the way he tilts his head it’s obviously a trait she’s quite familiar with which indicates a long term relationship rather than a crush.

  7. I agree about the pothead mom. I totally forgot about her once we got into the rest of the opening, so mom’s kind of a convoluted way of explaining the shorts.

    I’d totally keep reading.

  8. Sorry I don’t have time to go deeper with this today, but with a quick read, I thought it was great!

  9. I love the voice in this piece, and the first two paragraphs really drew me in… and then immediately took a detour. The only connection between the first two paragraphs and what follows seems to be the wearing of jean shorts, and it’s unclear what those shorts have to do with the action taking place on the rest of the page. There are soooooo many things to like about this page, but I have to agree with the assessment of the phrase about “the ruinous end of my contentment”, although there is a certain sense of whimsical humor in it. All in all, I truly like this page. Grrrreat start!

  10. I LOVE the voice and the interactions btwn the narrator, Sylvia and Marcus, but also felt like I wanted to understand more about the mother and how they got to where they are now. Where are they? I wasn’t sure.

  11. Loved your voice, Kate! I pretty much agree with Dianne. I like the first sentence, but if it isn’t tied into anything later on in the book it might need to be cut.

    I would keep reading for sure!

  12. Southpaw says:

    I liked it too. I did want to know more about where exactly mommie pothead brought them to now.

    I got a little confused with the second part. At first I thought she was happy she was wearing cute shorts so she would be attractive to the girl. A little reordering would fix that.

    “tilt of the head” made me think dog. I don’t know why and it is probably just me.

    Overall, I did want to read more.

  13. Mina Burrows says:

    I agree about the opening. I would like to know more about her mom from what you wrote, but not think it might be better somewhere else in the story.

    I liked the narrator a lot and wanted to read more.

    The only additional thought I had was when Sylvia said this: “This looks like great produce. Are you here every day?” That doesn’t sound like a teen to me. Do they even care? Maybe.

    Well done!

  14. Julie Dao says:

    A lot of showing, and no telling – perfect! It pulled me in right away. What a great opening 🙂

  15. Demitria says:

    Awesome opening 🙂