For the month of August, Marcy and I have taken on FOUR First Impressions critiques. Why? Because we love ‘em so much.
Our first critique is for the preface of Jessica Buccinna’s YA novel Surviving Derek, Maybe.
My former roommate Derek Shipley hung himself in the basement of his parent’s house last December, while he was home for Christmas. He used a bungee cord tied to an extension cord. At least that’s what I heard, anyhow.
Tis the season and all that.
There was this long memorial by the train tracks that ran through Haslett property where people lit candles and talked about Derek. It’s funny how people only say good things about someone after they’re dead. Like death makes you flawless or something. Because not one person stood up and said Derek Shipley stole ten bucks from my gym locker or Derek Shipley was an idiot who couldn’t pass Intermediate Algebra. He was dead, so it was like all of those things were absolved. Counselors with furrowed eyebrows hung around near the dorms all the time, in case anyone else dropped dead or had a break down. Things went haywire. We were supposed to talk more, but everyone talked less. And we all had to turn in our shoelaces.
The following week, it was back to business as usual and everyone who could just kind of forgot Derek Shipley ever existed at all. Like a selfish prick, I wondered if people would light candles and forget me if I hung myself in my basement. I wondered if I’d be perfect then, too. It’s probably unfortunate for my conscience that I’m not suicidal, I probably should be. Derek is dead and absolved and I’m here, trying to live in this mess and trying to survive.
First of all, I have to say I loved this opening, and I was immediately engaged by the voice of the narrator. It captured my attention, and I was sorry when the passage ended. I would definitely turn the page and read more of this!
I do have a question about chronology. Derek killed himself at home, over Christmas break, but I assume the memorial happened when everyone returned to school – since counselors were involved and dorms are mentioned. So why does the narrator imagine hanging himself in his basement instead of his dorm room (if that’s where he is now). If he was picturing himself doing it over Christmas break, then it should be in perfect past tense (had hung myself). It’s a small point, but I had to read the passage a couple times to figure out where and when the narrator is speaking.
There’s a couple editing errors: parent’s basement should be parents’ basement (plural possessive) and a semi-colon should be used in place of a comma in this sentence:
It’s probably unfortunate for my conscience that I’m not suicidal, I probably should be.
I read this sentence a couple times, and the double negative gave me trouble. I think it’s saying that his conscience would feel better if he was suicidal, because Derek is dead and absolved and he’s not. This makes me think that he and Derek did something wrong together (and I want to know what!) If this isn’t what Jessica meant, I would suggest changing the sentence – and even if that is the correct meaning, she might want to re-word it. Getting rid of the double negative would make the meaning clearer.
Thanks for sharing your work, Jessica! I wish I knew what was going to happen next – or perhaps more importantly, what came before! Be sure and check out Marcy’s critique on Mainewords.