Our final submission for First Impressions in July is RUNNING VERSE, a YA literary novel by Manju B. Howard.
When the whistle blows, I dash to the girls’ locker room. I hate wearing the school approved white t-shirt and orange gym shorts. Changing back into my black clothes is a relief.
Are they watching me? I glance over both shoulders. Five girls gab in the opposite corner.
I dive into my book bag and pull out a canvas sack. Today’s loot includes a toothbrush, toothpaste and three-pounds of mixed nuts. I twitch like a nervous bunny. The sack slips out of my hand and thuds on the hard floor.
“Are you okay?”
I spin around to find the new girl. She hovers so close that I feel her exhale in my face. Taking a step back, the locker door slaps against my side. That hurt.
“Yeah. Fine,” I reply. We stare at the sack lying between us.
I yank it off the floor and my not-so-new toothbrush falls out. She looks down at the brush, which slid next to the heel of her shoe. For a second I think she’ll pick it up and hand it to me. But she inches away like the bristles might bite.
I bend down and stretch out my arm to retrieve the thing that I will never stick in my mouth again. Turning toward the open locker, I toss my sack inside and fling the gross toothbrush on top. Then slam the metal door shut.
The new girl gasps. She must think I’m crazy. “Sorry. Hi. How are you? Okay?”
She raises her eyebrows. “I’m Brook – It’s really Brooklyn. But I figure new school, new name. Right? It’s like a do-over. I mean no one here knows me.”
As I wiggle my socked feet into pre-tied sneakers, my head bobs in agreement.
Brook continues chatting about her new bedroom, her new house and her dad’s new job.
The locker room has cleared out. I check the time on my cell phone. I’m late.
Brook unclips her hair and a zillion beaded braids bounce around her face. Her perfect complexion is a shade darker than my olive skin.
Leaning toward me, Brook whispers, “What’s in the sack?”
What should I tell her? Nothing. I’m not sharing my screwed up life with anyone. Okay, remain calm. She seems nice. “I’m Samantha. I’ll see you around.”
“Sam, what are you hiding?”
I choke on saliva that magically appears in my mouth.
Two things are important in this opening scene: the mysterious sack and the new girl. I think each of these elements can be sharpened a little more, while extraneous information is cut. (Such as the color of the gym uniform, her preference for black, pre-tied sneakers, etc.)
The phrase Today’s loot gives me the impression that the sack contains stolen items. But when the toothbrush falls on the locker room floor, the narrator says she will never put it in her mouth again – suggesting that it’s her toothbrush after all. So is the word loot correct?
Why does Samantha drop the sack? (And I’d love a description – size, material, etc.) Is it because Brook startles her? That would make sense, especially if she’s feeling guilty and jumpy – but the order of events should be changed. First Brook speaks to her; then Sam drops the bag.
At this point, the scene could delve more into the interaction between the girls. I get the feeling Brook is trying to be friendly – and to make a new friend – while Sam wants to get dressed and get out of there. But I’d like more dialogue and a little more internal thought from Sam to help me get a better read on the situation. If Brook talks about her new house, that could be expanded into dialogue rather than summarized, for instance, while Sam might respond in uninterested mono-syllables. If Sam is giving her the cold shoulder, why does Brook persevere? Is Sam annoyed that this girl isn’t taking the hint?
And if the author wants Brook to be suspicious about that sack, I’d like there to be more reason. As written here, there’s not much to indicate it’s anything other than a toiletry bag. Throwing it into the locker and slamming the door isn’t enough. I might do that myself if I was annoyed about my toothbrush landing on the gross floor.
Now, if Sam dropped the sack and Brook bent to pick it up, only to have Sam snatch it out of her hands, that would be a different story!