dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

Our final First Impressions post comes from Sharon Mayhew. This is the first page of her MG historical fiction manuscript: NOT A HOLIDAY.
August 1, 1940
            I flung my gas mask over my shoulder and plopped down in a kitchen chair.
            “But I don’t want to carry a gas mask around all the time,” I said.
            “It’s not a choice, Joyce, you have to.  Everyone has to, from grandparents all the way down to babies.” Mummy stacked a pile of newspaper on the counter, and then dug around in the odds and end drawer.
            “Well, I don’t think it’s fair that the war is coming to London.  That Mister Hitler is a real rotter!”
            “I think everyone in England would agree with you on that, Love.” Mummy brushed her long auburn hair out of her eyes.  “But right now I need you to show Gina carrying your gas mask is all right and not fuss about it.  Imagine how grateful you’ll be to have it, if something horrible happens.”
            “I still don’t like it.”  I scratched the back of head and thought about Gina being scared of bombs and gas masks.  “I’m going to make Dolly a little gas mask box. That should make it less scary for Gina.”   Dolly was special to Gina, she was her only doll.  Gran gave her to Gina on her last birthday.
             “That’s a wonderful idea!”  You can make it while I’m getting the house ready in case the air raids start.”
            I found a matchbox, a roll of sticky tape, the crayons, and some string in the odds and ends drawer.  I separated the matchbox into two parts. I cut off a piece of string and taped it to the inside of the outside part of the matchbox, then I slid the drawer part back in.  I colored Dolly’s gas mask box blue.  Gina liked blue and it covered up the words on the matchbox.
            Gina came in the kitchen carrying Dolly.
            “Look what I made for Dolly.”  I held up the tiny gas mask box.
            “Oh!  Now, Dolly will be safe too.”  Gina slipped the gas mask box over Dolly’s shoulder, gave me a cuddle and then plopped down in the chair next to me.
My first thought, as I was reading, was I wanted to know more about Joyce, our main character. I didn’t know why she didn’t like the gas masks (ie: bulky, smelly, uncomfortable, scary) or if she even understood what they were for. And she changed her attitude rather quickly, from being petulant over the masks to making one for a doll so her sister won’t be afraid of them.
I think we need to get into Joyce’s head a little more in the opening page, so that her voice will shine. I want to know how much she knows about “Mr. Hitler the rotter” and the reason everyone carries gas masks. Has she learned about it in school? What has she overheard adults talking about?  Is she scared? Letting us glimpse her inner thoughts will go a long way towards establishing voice and our connection to this MC.
I’d like it to take a little longer before she buys into putting on a good show for her little sister – at least long enough to mull the situation over and decide why it’s important for her to do so. The details of making the mask for the doll could be glossed over in favor of some reflection on Gina and Joyce’s determination to be a good big sister. Readers, what do you think?
Sharon, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Marcy Hatch has a critique of this same page up on her site Mainewords, and you can say hello to Sharon at her blog.