Today I’m bringing you a First Impression of PK Hrezo’s manuscript, a YA thriller titled THE 49TH PARALLEL.
Mom says I’m my father’s daughter.
She says I’d be willing to put my well-being on the line for anyone. She doesn’t mean it in the good way. Dad was a firefighter and made a career out of getting people out of trouble. There’s even a memorial for him, along with the other firefighters who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.
He was a hero. All I am is a dare-taker who can’t even keep herself out of trouble, much less anyone else. That’s what Mom means. It’s what got me here in the most boring town in upper state New York for the summer, working in the public library. It was that, or change bed pans for old people in the retirement home—and I’m not about to work around human defecation all day. Besides, I like books. And I like them even more when my friends back in Manhattan can’t see me reading them.
Returning two books back to the cultural arts section, I roll the book cart down the aisle and across the faded brown parquet floor to the American History section. It’s quiet up here tonight, my first night closing alone, and I have to admit this big old place is kind of creepy. The third level skirts the transparent railing that surrounds the center staircase to the first level. From up here, you can see all the way down to the atrium floor, where the moonlight from the glass ceiling spills in like silvery rain.
It’s an impressive building for a suburban library outside Syracuse. Uncle Geoffrey says it was built back in the early 1960s for university students who lived off campus. Pre-internet days, back when libraries were the only place to study. Now it’s more of a landmark than anything else. Still, college kids trickle in for somewhere quiet to read. And it’s definitely quiet.
At the far end of the American History section I follow the decimal numbers to return a navy blue hardback book that looks like it hasn’t been read in years. It’s heavy and smells like my uncle’s basement: musty and old. The American Revolution is embossed across the front in pale gold. I scan the numbers on the binding again. It belongs on the very top shelf where I can’t reach without the ladder. Stepping back down the aisle, I snag the nearest shelf ladder and roll it over.
Glass rattles at the far atrium windows. It startles me, making me freeze in my tracks. Scanning the network of window panes over my head, beyond the shelves, I spy a couple of pigeons fluttering away, off the stone ledge outside. I’m such a dork. I’m from Manhattan—there’s no excuse for me being this jumpy. I’ve seen people mugged at gunpoint inside my very own apartment building, for Pete’s sake!
Being a huge fan of gothic mysteries, I have no objection to starting off a story in a creepy library, but in this case, I think I’m more intrigued by what this narrator did to get herself banished from Manhattan for the summer. Her father was a fire-fighter and a 9/11 hero who sacrificed his life trying to help others. Our narrator is like her father, but not in a good way, since she “put her well-being” on the line as part of a foolish dare. With an opening like that, I found it hard to turn my attention to the library.
One suggestion I have is to intersperse the back story that landed her here with the description of the library itself in alternating paragraphs. Maybe replay bits of dialogue between this girl and her mother, or include some comment by Uncle Geoffrey (with whom I assume she’s staying) about how working at this library will keep her out of x, y, and z sorts of trouble.
I’d also drop the paragraph giving the history of this building (for now) and work on conveying more of a creepy mood in the library itself. Give us more shadows, a bit of a chill, echoes and creaks as she rolls her cart around the third level balcony.
Overall, I think what I want most from this page is a little more building of mood and tone – a sense that exciting and surprising things are about to happen to a girl already prone to jumping in first and thinking about consequences later.