3rd SR Crapometer #63

Dear Miss Snark:

'Let’s face it, if you come into this world with a name like Gooby, you're pretty much done for.'

Meet fourteen-year-old Jay Gooby. His life is one endless torment, andhe’s convinced it's all his parents' fault for saddling him with such aridiculous name. He's endured all kinds of nicknames, especially at the hands of his classmate and hockey rival Mike Thornleigh, who's been making Jay's life hell since kindergarten.

Then Jay's world is turned upside-down when his parents adopt an autistic child and Thornleigh is diagnosed with a heart condition. Forced to re-examine his perspective on life, Jay comes to realize that there is only one person responsible for his problems: himself.

The Goob Factor is a 25,000 word, Young Adult novel about taking a step back from your own judgements and seeing other people as they really are.

I thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

I'm not sure why these two events force someone to reexamine their perspective. Most 14 year old kids I know are oblivious to everything, don't have a perspective on life, and they are bundles of raging feelings without much introspection. (please don't write and tell me I'm wrong--maybe you know different kids, but these are the ones I know)

Let's face it, if you come into this world with a name like Gooby, you’re pretty much done for.

I can’t believe that after decades (centuries, maybe!) of kids getting pummelled in playgrounds, the world hasn't figured this one out by now. Hey, attention parents -- newsflash! This just in! Don't land your kid with a stupid name!

Gooby's not my first name. Thank. Freaking. God. Can you imagine? I’ll give my parents credit for at least giving me a halfway normal first name. Oh no, wait -- I won’t. Jay might sound normal at first, but then you realize it could be a girl's name. Couple that with the whole Gooby thing, and life is pretty much over before it's begun.

It's okay for a girl to have a guy’s name, like Charlie or Jamie -- it's kinda cute. Sexy, even. But on no account should a guy ever, EVER be called Stacy, Leslie or (thank God for small mercies) Vivian. But Jay is almost as bad. Trust me on this one.

"Hey Goober!" a voice calls out.

Nickname number one.

Takes a real genius to come up with that one. I don't even turn around; I already know the genius in question is Mike Thornleigh. It’s the hey-world-look-at-me, I’m MIKE THORNLEIGH in his voice that gives it away. Oh, that and the fact he's been calling me names for nine straight years now. I could probably pick his voice out of a screaming crowd of a
thousand people. While wearing headphones.


Nickname number two.

There’s Gooby, Goobs, Goober, Goobster, and then my personal favourite: Booger. That one doesn't even make sense. But try explaining that to someone like Thornleigh. It's not that the guy's dumb, just that there isn't much call for him to be smart. In school, smart is a niche, and it's reserved for the kids who aren't athletes, good looking, overflowing with confidence, blah, blah, blah. Thornleigh is all of those things, so smart doesn’t really get a look-in.

"Thornleigh," I say, which makes me wonder if I really am so smart, after all. I mean, NINE YEARS of name-calling -- you’d think I’d have a better comeback. But go on, you try -- come up with a s out of Thornleigh.

I once thought about the ‘Booger’ nickname and how it wasn’t really that close to my name, so I took the ‘Leigh’ from Thornleigh and figured at least I could do something with that, but all I came up with was Leafy. So then I thought, hey, that’s neat, ‘cause leafy is like a bush, and so are thorns, so I called him Leafy, but he just gave me this strange look and I realized how stupid it sounded.

Thornleigh. Damn. Sounds good no matter what. Kinda tough. Even a bit classy. Like a make of hockey stick or something.


Ow. Textbook. Head.

I swing around, ready to nail Thornleigh with my backpack, but he has already jumped out of the way. He’s always hitting me with books or tripping me up or slamming me against lockers

Nine years is a long time. I should know; I’m fourteen.

(this is where your story starts)
"So Goob-Goob!" (Oh, did I forget to mention that one?) “You going to practice tomorrow?”

I turn to look at him. He’s smiling, and he’d actually look friendly if it weren’t for all the years of nicknames, jokes, punches, wedgies, and general roughhousing.

"Yeah, I’m goin’."

"Great! ‘Cause my team really needs you, man."

This would sound nice if I weren’t on a different team.

You're telling not showing. You don't need all the exposition, just SHOW the kid getting called Goob Goob. We'll figure out that's a nickname eventually.

Also, it's very hard to write in the voice of a 14 year old kid. I see a lot of stuff written in that voice and it tends to sound like sitcom kids-mouthy and overly adult. Like Danny on the Partridge Family kind of thing.

This is a pass-I don't believe the premise or the voice.


Time's Ocean said...

"Most 14 year old kids I know are oblivious to everything, don't have a perspective on life, and they are bundles of raging feelings without much introspection."

MS, as they say on the forums, "you wins teh internets!".

This is the very reason that since passing out of adolesence, I haven't written a teen character from first person perspective.

Recently, I googled myself (question, if "to google" is a verb, but "Google" is a brand-name proper noun, should it have been capitalized?) and found some nonfiction I submitted to a writer's web site during high school. It was all pointless teen melodrama and angst, making me appriciate my adult life and new writing all the more.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a kid, but I kinda liked this. I'd have read on.

Anonymous said...

25,000 words is way to short for a YA novel.

overdog said...

Before reading Miss Snark's comments, I was enjoying the voice a lot. I thought, "I'll let the author know how much I like that voice."

Then I read her comments and thought, "Maybe I'm wrong."

Then I realized what a chicken-sh*t I'd be for not speaking up, just because I disagree with Miss Snark on a point.

But we might not disagree, it's just that she doesn't "believe" the voice--at all? or as a fourteen-year-old, maybe? I wonder.

I really do like the voice. I don't know a lot of teenagers so I can't attest to its believability in this character. But maybe there's another character/premise you could use it on.

Anonymous said...

I found the excerpt amusing, but I'd like to see the tension get in there a bit quicker. Jay is funny, but let me know there's going to be a story soon too.

I liked this better than Miss Snark did, Author. It was funny and I could believe Jay's voice; I just think he rambles on a bit too long. Keep working on the story, and good luck!

Anonymous said...

Um--I had one of *those* names, too. Gooby doesn't even come close to the worst.

At 14 I might has well have had a "please bully this made-to-order victim" in neon floating over my head.

But it didn't ruin my life.

At 14 I got OVER the name thing pretty quick. So did the bullies, as they had other issues to pick on.

Male bullies (probably back then, too) tend to use "lookit the queer" as an opening salvo. An odd name is nothing when one's sexual orientation can be called into question. But that requires a more serious book.

domynoe said...

As a mother of an autistic and 4 kids, I can tell you, these kinds of events DO make kids re-examin things because they have a great impact on their lives and their feeling of security. There is a great deal of adjustment that must be made in a family with a disabled child, and it truly does affect how the siblings relate to themselves and the world around them.

That any parent would willingly adopt an autistic is incredible, but could be pulled off if the parents show generosity and that special spirit of the few people we read/hear about who adopt or foster disabled children as a specialty. Autistics require A LOT of work, attention, and energy. They truly make you appreciate childhood challenges, not only their own, but those of "normal" children as well.

All in all, the premise works even if the writing doesn't.

My 2 cents said...

I liked the beginning. I liked the voice.

Sonarbabe said...

I dunno, Miss Snark. I kinda liked this one. I would have finished reading the rest of the pages at the very least.

LindaBudz said...

I liked the beginning and the exposition about the nicknames (but you've got to lose the stuff about Thornleigh's name ... went on way too long).

But I do agree with Ms S re: the voice. It just didn't ring true to me. I don't think a 14-year-old boy would say "kinda cute, sexy even" or whatever that was, or "Thank. Freaking. God." Sounded more like a girl to me.

Also, I never heard of a girl named Jay? If that's important, maybe Chris or Lee? Though I know it's hard to change a character's name once you've gotten to know him.

Keep at it, and good luck!

Anonymous said...

I thought the voice was very well done! The writing is solid, and I feel firmly in the character POV. However, for me, I think the internal thoughts need trimmage, just so the progression of the story isn't in fits and starts. After a while, Gooby's thoughts feel like they interrupt the story. But great job on the voice otherwise.

I believe too, that while short for YA, this is likely in the 'reluctant reader' category because of the WC, and so would still be of interest to many publishers. Keep at it!


xiqay said...

I'm agreeing with Miss Snark for a change! The boy-named-Sue problem isn't very interesting or original. The nemesis who suddenly becomes ill and works a change-of-heart in the protagonist isn't, either. And the voice is not right.

My personal mantra--Don't give up. Keep writing. And keep listening (to kids all around, every age). Yup, I'm writing YA, too.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I think I would have read on. There are all sorts of fourteen year olds and some of them are very astute. I felt that the voice could easily be that of some teens I know.

Keep at it, author. Open this with a bigger bang. Maybe flop things around a bit.

Good luck.

McKoala said...

There is a character called The Goober in Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War.

Anonymous said...

The premise struck a chord with me, since I had to put up with more than my share of teasing and bullying at certain times while growing up.

I may be wrong, but I didn't get the sense that the author has a firm grasp on the depth of the issues raised and how the characters are impacted by the events that take place. I wonder if the author fully knows these characters, or has explored them thoroughly enough.

There were a few points in the query that jumped out at me, begging for a response:

His life is one endless torment...

This is a significant statement. Consider the impact on the MC if he is literally constantly tormented by his peers, year after year. It can push people to the edge. There are children who commit suicide after being teased that much. Does the author really wish to establish this level of torment in the story? Perhaps the MC is simply teased and bothered by it, but not to such an extreme. I understand the value of raising the stakes, but what is the appropriate level for this story?

...it's all his parents' fault for saddling him with such a ridiculous name.

If it's really only his name, then fankly I can't think the teasing was so serious that it would be desribed as "endless torment"!

To see this in a way that does make sense, I'd have to guess that the teasing runs beyond just the name issue, that the other kids don't like him for some other reasons as well. The bullies might use the name as a rallying point, when behind it lurks a larger rejection of him as a person -- is he too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too nerdy, too rich, too poor, etc.? He must stand out in other ways for the teasing to be that serious.

Also, if he hates his parents for the name, is this all he hates them for? If he has directed his frustration over the teasing against his parents, I suspect he might also have a laundry list of reasons why he feels disappointed with his parents. What else does he hate about his parents, what else have they done to make him stand out in the eyes of his peers? Are there deeper issues here between him and his parents? He may be wrong, but it would be his self-centered perception of his parents. He could learn to appreciate them or see them more realistically in the course of the story.

...rival Mike Thornleigh, who's been making Jay's life hell since kindergarten.

Again, it takes more than just an odd name for someone to do that much teasing for that many years. What's the REAL conflict between these two? What event caused the one to turn on the other initially? Why did it continue for so long? Without the medical problem introduced in the plot, how would this situation have resolved itself otherwise, or would it have? If they met on the street years later as adults, what would they say? Would they grow out of it? Would they become friends? Would the bullying escalate? What exactly is the dynamic of this? Thornleigh is being singled out in a significant way in the plot and this relationship must be totally clear. Is he just a convenient antagonist, or is there a meaningful tie-in between the two, a reason why HE is the antagonist, and not someone else? What is Thornleigh going to learn? What are his issues that cause him to act out like this? Is he an "all-black" villain, or a good guy at heart, too?

Then Jay's world is turned upside-down when his parents adopt an autistic child and Thornleigh is diagnosed with a heart condition. Forced to re-examine his perspective on life...

I wonder specifically how the author views these things impacting the MC. Certainly they would, I'm just wondering the thought processes and emotional reactions the author sees in this character, whether they would ring true, and how they are going to be tied together in light of the issues raised (above). This can't be answered in one sentence: it would be many little things over the course of the story and one or two key decisions the MC makes.

I'm no expert either on 14-year-olds, but as a writer I'd imagine the MC seeing he is not the only one with problems, that he would learn to look beyond himself and see others have their problems, too. Was he just obsessing, and no one else thought the teasing meant anything? Would the bully (if that's what he is) have a change of heart somewhere as he realizes there are more important things in life than teasing people? Is there any symbiosis in the way these two characters stand at odds, then learn their lessons and grow? I'm sure there is, but I didn't detect the nature of it in the query.

I have an issue with the statement about accountability. I don't think it's enough to say:

Jay comes to realize that there is only one person responsible for his problems: himself.

Is he really responsible for being bullied? Or are the other kids responsible for their actions, too? Are we going to blame the victim? I think those who tormented the poor kid for years and years should be forced to recognize that and deal with it. There is an opportunity here to tell a story that helps kids develop some sense of empathy (which they need to learn to do at that age). Bullying is a very serious and prevalent problem for kids, not only in school but in their neighborhoods. The author has a chance to make a story that presents a lesson on this. Walk some of these bullies through the process of finally learning to do better, and you will present a positive example that will show real-life kids the thought processes involved in caring about others and changing their behavior for the better (people who work with kids call it "modeling appropriate behavior"). The MC isn't the only character here with something to learn.

For me as a reader, I'd want the MC to realize something within himself, ultimately taking charge of his emotions and boundaries. It doesn't change the fact of how others have treated him, but he has to accept that, pick himself up and move on (establishing new boundaries). The decision on what to do about this situation is key to the plot. I think this one decision is the most important decision in the story, as I understood the premise.

I'd also want to see some recognition that it's not all his inner issue here: those around him have still done him wrong, and somehow that should be addressed. The MC could seek revenge (preferably not) or justice (if the bullies step over the line finally and get themselves in hot water legally, or simply learn and stop tormenting the kid).

I don't think it's excessive to attempt to address issues in-depth in YA fiction. Kids are pretty darned smart. You can focus on a simpler or more superficial point to move the plot forward (teasing solely over his name), but you should still have thought through the rest of the possibilities, the depth of it, and show some evidence of that (such as other reasons for the teasing). This will help make your characters more three-dimensional, more realistic, and help the story ring true.

Great story idea. Consider taking time for deeper exploration of the plot and characters, then a rewrite to take advantage of the fullness or richness of the story.

Thank you for indulging me.