HH CC Rd 2 #59 (483)

hook here


Moving from Honolulu to Seoul, in the middle of winter, a week before the eighth-grade Valentine's dance, was cruelty in the extreme. I'd never forgive my parents. On my last night in paradise, I gently laid out my favorite muumuu, envisioning the brightly flowered dress as a burial shroud. The next morning, a blue knit skirt with matching blouse, a thick green cardigan and white tights lay in the muumuu's place. Mom wasn't allowing "martyrs", just fashion victims.

As we left the house, our neighborhood friends bade us farewell with homemade leis of pale blossoms. "Aloha! Don't freeze too much, ya?"

I hugged them somberly, but skipped over Kimo, who'd given me five black eyes over the years. His mom must've made him come to say farewell, even though her response to each black eye had been, "That's what happens to girls who fight with boys."

(start here)
My best friend, Malia, was the last to hug me. "If Danny Leong asks Kuulei to the dance, I'll kick him for you."

I wiped at my eyes, afraid to say anything that would unleash the kind of tsunami crying that led to blood-shot eyes and wayward snot. "Thanks," was all I managed.

My new, closed-in shoes clunked along our driveway. I wondered how fast I could bolt in them. Dad would catch me in a minute though and the escape attempt would just end up being another "undignified" episode for my friends to remember. Apparently, there'd been enough of those lately with my hints of wanting to be adopted by their families, two staged runaways, and a door-to-door fund drive to collect money to make up for Dad's lost job. My parents yelled the loudest after the last of these and were heartless enough to make me return the $23.55 I'd collected.

Since the worst dad on the planet had sold our car the day before, we rode off in the Takahashi's sand-gunked station wagon. I pressed my forehead to the glass, staring at the images of home: the bee-infested guava bushes, the mountain with the Pinto-shaped rock on top, the wiliwili tree where Malia and I had shared so many secrets. I tried to memorize the scent of plumeria, sniffing so hard I couldn't smell anything by the time we reached the airport. When the plane door closed with a suffocating hiss, I knew that my months of pleading had been useless. We really were leaving. No last minute pardon. I cried non-stop on the twelve-hour flight, running to the bathroom so often that the other passengers shot me annoyed stares. And still, the stewardess refused to serve me an alcoholic beverage.

When we changed planes in Tokyo, I barely glanced at the bright advertisements featuring geishas and cherry blossoms. My sister Gina had stopped mourning two hours out of Hawaii for the price of a candy lei. She squealed and pointed to a billboard for Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

I scrubbed at my raw nose with a damp tissue. "So what? We've already seen it." I snuck a peek anyway, intrigued by the Japanese characters blazing across the sky. I could swear they'd even done something to the seagull to make it look less American.

By the time we reached Seoul, my vision was blurry and my head throbbed. It seemed like we drove in circles for hours between Kimpo Airport and the Chosun Hotel. I tried writing a post-card to Malia, but the taxi's jerky starts and stops, along with my crying, left the card blotchy, poetically ruining a little drawing I'd labeled "Tear Drop Lake". Giving up on the card, I cracked open my window, hoping to dilute the smoky smell of the taxi's upholstery. Maybe the tears on my cheeks would freeze into a mask of melancholy my parents couldn't ignore.

Gina, stuck in the middle, leaned around me. "That bus must have a hundred people on it."

In the far left lane, a rusty hulk teetered through the gray slush. Pressed into the windows was a jumble of faces. The bus moved in close enough to push a fresh cloud of diesel fumes our way, then sped up and swerved past us in a ruffle of black exhaust. Our taxi driver hadn't slowed down or deviated from his lane, even when the bus came within inches. I wondered how many people a year died in bus accidents. Or in taxis.

If I were on that plane, I'd do more than shoot her an annoyed glance, I'd shoot her out the emergency exit.

You're starting at the wrong spot. Start in Korea.

And this doesn't feel like a kid talking, to me. I don't think sardonic or sarcastic humor works as a middle grade voice. Most kids are too self conscious at that age, or too unsure of themselves for that kind of humor.


Anonymous said...

"I don't think sardonic or sarcastic humor works as a middle grade voice. Most kids are too self conscious at that age, or too unsure of themselves for that kind of humor."

I beg to differ, O Great and Lustrous Snark.

Having taught drama and play-writing to eighth-graders (and lived through a few at home), I'd say sardonic and sarcastic are what they're all about; they just don't usually say it out loud in front of adults.

That said, this opening reads older to me because of the longer, more complex sentences. I liked bits of the farewell thoughts (wayward snot), but would want to see the weeping/wailing/gnashing pared down considerably so they arrive at the destination sooner.

The impression I'm left with is a very slow start for what could be a quite interesting story.

Heidi the Hick said...

I think this kid is older than 13. If this were a 16 year old it would perfect!

Don't forget, teenagers are the self absorbed and creative creatures on the planet. Good voice. Get the story moving.

xiqay said...

I don't know, Miss Snark, but I think I disagree with you on this one.

It doesn't sound like an actual kid at that age, but kids reading it would understand it, and imagine that's what they sound like. It captures the highly dramatic, my-parents-are-ruining-my-life angst of many middle and high-schoolers. And it's funny.

I think it sets up the character, moves us from Hawaii to Korea quickly, and I'd keep reading.

Zuleme said...

Read Polly Horvath, When the Circus Came to Town for a great snarky character, Ivy.

Anonymous said...

I have a twelve year old and this is exactly what she sounds like, so I too must disagree with Miss Snark on this one.


Without the "leaving Hawaii scene" and all the little details of sights and sounds and smells she'll miss, as well as the friends, there won't be sufficient sympathy generated within the reader to get them on this teen's side. There also won't be (I'm guessing) nearly as effective a feeling of 'culture shock' once she finds herself in Seoul. That witty sarcasm would then seem more like common spoiled-brat self-pity than sincere and justifiable pain and loss.

This was good. Start it on the fourth paragraph as Miss Snark suggested, but don't change the voice. Send it around and hope it lands with an agent who has a twelve-year-old daughter who's very bright and a bit of a drama queen.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I think you have to go through this with very careful attention to voice... I think an eighth grader can be sarcastic (most of the sarcasm so far is in her head, not out loud), but some lines seem too old: the comment about not even being served alcohol in particular. The melancholy mask also struck me as unkidlike language.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark got tired at the tape. This one reads fun and fast from the beginning. Don't start in Korea. Don't second-guess your voice. Just follow your instincts on this one. The real challenge will be to keep it interesting on Day Two in Korea.

Anonymous said...

A 13 year-old protaganist isn't considered middle grade, it can be YA, as YA is for readers 12 and up.

Personally I loved this, and don't think you need to "start it in Korea." How can we sympathize with the main character's sense of loss and yearning if we don't know what she's leaving behind from the outset? I liked those passages.

As mentioned, you probably should go back through and make sure the "young voice" is consistant throughout.

This is the best one of the lot in my opinion. (I am a YA author -- my first book comes out in June from a solid publisher)

Good luck, this is a lovely and refreshing work.

inez2 said...

This has potential, though I'd hope for a better kid voice.

I disagree with anon2 that this needs to start in Hawaii. All this emotion occurs in limbo -- not in her old life in Honolulu, not in her new life in Seoul -- so it doesn't add much.

If this girl were to initially resist or subvert everything she encountered in Seoul, we'd see first-hand how she feels and what she does about it. As it stands, we have showing and not telling, but in a way that doesn't do quite as much as it should to advance plot or develop character.

Good luck, writer, you have the moxie to pull off this engaging idea!

McKoala said...

I'm happy with the start in Hawaii, particularly the first para and some of the trip to the airport. That gives me a flavour of what her life was like. I do wonder if this section could be pared down a little, though, as it just seemed to be taking too long to go anywhere. Particularly the farewells. Will we meet any of the characters again?

The tone did jump about a bit, I thought; the humour was fine, but some of the phrases didn't sound like they came out of a 12-year old's mouth.

Anonymous said...

I read tons of MG and YA and don't see any problem with this. I'd gladly read on.

Richard Lewis said...

Why assume this is YA--the hook didn't specify, did it? Could be an older narrator, using her older voice to speak of her younger self.

It's interesting how we are automatically market-pegging this novel based on the narrator's age (well that and the immediacy of scene).

Anonymous said...

I agree with Miss Snark. She said that she would do more than give Gina a shooting glance. She'd shoot her out the exit.

She sounds like a b*tch with nothing better to do then bother someone else - loser. Tell you what I would do. . . I would punch her right in the liver - really hard. Or I would at least give it my best shot. See what I mean - That sounds like somehting a 13 year old might do.

Published Won

Bebe said...

A 13-year-old protag does not preclude MG. A protag can be a little older than the audience--it's much, much more common than a protag that's younger than the audience. A book with a 13-year-old protag could be either MG or YA, but if it's YA, it's the youngest of YA.

The problem with the snarky teenage voice is not that kids don't really "talk" that way, it's that kids are much more vulnerable than that inside their heads, which is where we're supposed to be with a first person narrative. The sarcasm is to protect the fact that inside, they're self-conscious and unsure of themselves. There are two other problems, too. One is that it's done to death and then some. The other is that unless done incredibly well, it smacks of an adult trying to write like they hear kids talk, rather than writing it while remembering what it was really like to be inside a teenager's head.

thraesja said...

My goodness, Miss Snark. Surely you were already developing your sense of humour at age 12? I'm sardonic and sarcastic now. I was sardonic and sarcastic then. I will be sardonic and sarcastic when I die. Which, given my sense of humour, may be sooner rather than later.

Keep the humour, make sure the voice is consistant. I think you can start in Hawaii or Korea, depending on how you do it. Tighten it up, and rethink the alcohol comment, 'cause that one threw me too. It was funny, but it made me go back and reread the beginning, as I thought I had the age wrong. No one likes having to go back and reread. At that age I might have thought "Damn, I could use a drink" but no way would I have even jokingly asked for one in front of my parents.

This has potential. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

I loved this, and I think all this debate about how 13-year-olds "really" speak is extremely misguided. I mean, most teenagers don't speak like Buffy (to pick an example of another witty teenage girl), and that's what makes her such an engaging character.

Twill said...

I liked it, top to bottom. And I don't think that a person, writing about how she used to be, needs to write like she would have talked then.

Having a sense of humor - now - about how other people would have responded to her - then - shows that she has grown and can see things that were outside of her perceptions then.

The question is whether the target audience will respond to this particular voice, which none of us can predict with certainty.

I would not cut the first three paragraphs - they clearly showed a negotiation between the girl and her mother, where the girl lost. I felt engaged and would have kept reading.

Best Wishes, writer.

Anonymous said...

I think it is perfect the way it is. I would begin in Hawaii just as it is now, the comparisons between Hawaii and Korea are fundamental and necessary facts for the hook. I would not change a thing.
Kids are usually just that obnoxious. I feel that it was conveyed perfectly.
Therefore, I must disagree with you, Miss Snark. I would love to read more!