HH Com Rd 2 -# 39 (361)

hook here

Mom always acts extra sweet before she tells me big news. One Saturday last summer, I woke up to find her offering to make me anything I wanted for breakfast. This is weird, I thought, it’s not my birthday. Still, I accepted her offer. “I know it’s August, but can I have oatmeal?” I asked.

I love the goopy, heavy taste of oatmeal. Plus, my Grandpa once said, “You never know what a day’s going to bring, so you’d better meet it with a full stomach. Oatmeal does the trick.”

After breakfast, I was clearing the table when Mom said, “That’s okay, Jessie. You don’t need to help.” Normally she would’ve said, “When you’re finished with the dishes, could you go clean up your room?” which isn’t really a question. It’s an order. This time Mom didn’t ask or order. I had no idea what was coming, but I knew it was big. Three long hours passed until I found out what it was.

(start here)
I was sketching a cat with kittens when Mom appeared at my door. “Jessie, Dad and I have something to tell you. Let’s go in the kitchen.”

Uh, oh.

The last time Mom brought me to the kitchen, it was to let me know Grandpa had died. The time before that, we went to the kitchen so Mom could announce she was having twins.
This time I suspected that what they were going to tell me was not only big, but bad—more of a Grandpa dying-type of news than the twins coming-type. So on my way, I stopped at my favorite place in our apartment—the Big Window. With no time to look at the action on the street or to peep into the apartment across the way, I reached out to give the Big Window a quick touch, for good luck.

Dad was sitting at the table, staring into space. I sat across from him. Mom poured herself a glass of ice water and sat next to me. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped her forehead. She nodded to Dad. He cleared his throat. “Uh, we have some news—about Mom.”
Mom squeezed the tissue in her fist. She took a deep breath. “I have to report to Fort Bragg in two weeks, for training. I’ve been called up to serve in the war in Iraq.” She reached for her water and took a big gulp.

“She won’t actually be fighting,” Dad said quickly. He covered my hand with his. “She’ll be a translator, like she is here. They need her Arabic language skills to help our soldiers communicate with the Iraqis.”

He smiled like the twins did when they were babies still learning how: kind of a lop-sided half-smile. Mom put her elbows on the table and rubbed her eyes with her palms.
I pulled my hand out from under Dad’s to wipe it on my shorts. Since my thighs were sticking to the chair, I put both hands underneath them. I took my parents’ lead and pretended I could handle this.

“For how long?” I asked, as if they’d told me Mom was going to visit Grandma.

“Hopefully no longer than a year,” Mom answered.

I gasped. It felt like someone had kicked a soccer ball into my stomach. I calculated in my head. Mom would miss my whole sixth grade year, my twelfth birthday, the beginning of seventh grade and everything in-between.

“A year? That’s so long,” I whispered.

No one answered. I heard the sounds of the city outside: someone whistling for a cab, a far-off siren.

“Why, Mom? Why do they have to bring you all the way from New York to help people talk to each other? Don’t they have translators in Iraq?”


“What about the twins?” I continued. “Who’ll wash their hair? What about Sky? A parakeet doesn’t understand. And what about me?” My voice cracked. So much for the good luck touch. I wanted to break that Big Window in a million pieces.

“Jessie, let me explain. You know I’ve been in the Army Reserves. I didn’t think it would happen, but I made a commitment to serve if our country ever went to war. With 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq…. Well, Dad and I knew I could be deployed, but we hoped–” She swallowed. Then she whispered, “You never think it’ll be you.” Mom dropped her head. Her tissue lay shredded on the table.

This needs some editing but it's not a mess by any means.
I'd do it.
I'd probably take this entire manuscript and copy edit it and hand carry it around to every editor in town cause I think kids need this book.

This is why I think that: 1200 kids have lost a parent in Iraq/Afghanistan ...so far

One of the great things about being in publishing is you can help get books into print that people really really need. Not just prescriptive books, but stories that help you sort out how you feel and make you understand why you feel that way.

I can't end the war in Iraq. I can't do much to help kids who have lost a parent, particularly their mom, in that war. I could do this though. And I think just about any agent in town would feel the same way.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Miss Snark. I loved the query and this page lived up to my expectations. Even though I don't have children, my husband is in the military, and I would love a book like this to share with my future children. You need to get this book to an agent ASAP. Heck, I'll even volunteer to help you edit it! ;-P

susan said...

Agreed as well. The writing is good, you jump right into the conflict, and the promise of adventure is there. The voice is easy-flowing and honest.

And of course, the timing is perfect to jump on this.

writtenwyrdd said...

Maybe it's because I've been in the military, but I'd run screaming with my hair on fire from this book. The writing is good, but I couldn't read a whole book about it.

I can see why MS is passionate about the topic, though. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

"I took my parents' lead and pretended I could handle this."

Just love that line.

Agree with Miss Snark re where to start. Agree with substantial editing and pruning. But the writing is great. I'd read this without any editing, although I'd enjoy it more if it were tighter.

I also agree this is a book that needs to see the light of day, and soon.

Mindy Tarquini said...

Thank you, Author.
Thank you, Miss Snark.
I'd want my ten year olds to read this. Their teachers would like it also.

Anonymous said...

You've got something good here.

Anonymous said...

I'd definitely keep reading, though with a wary eye for overdoing the Mom's part. Resist the urge to pander to sentiment or war-porn on the Mom's side. Most military parents I know (and I grew up military) go to huge lengths to keep their kids believing everything is under control.

Getting this in school libraries within the next year would be a huge boost for small-town American kids after the next wave of reserve and Nat Guard callups start.

Anonymous said...

I like this but wondered if the line "I took my parents' lead and pretended I could handle this" was too adult an assessment of the situation. Its a great line but it strikes me as too mature for your average twelve year old? This is something I have wrestled with in the past in my own writing and I am not entirely sure how far you can push the limits on this without losing or confusing the reader.

Minty Fresh

A Paperback Writer said...

I'd read this.
My students would read this.
Here's why: It sounds very real, what a kid would do, what a kid would worry about.
Yup. It's a keeper.

Virginia Miss said...

I like the first line. Maybe you could keep it, then transition to Miss Snark's suggested starting point:

Mom always acts extra sweet before she tells me big news. So when she told me I didn’t need to help with the breakfast dishes, I had no idea what was coming, but I knew it was big.

Three long hours passed before Mom appeared at my bedroom door. “Jessie, Dad and I have something to tell you. Let’s go in the kitchen.”

Laura(southernxyl) said...

I think the line about taking the lead from the parents is just fine. There's no reason why the story has to be about the "average" 12-year-old, if there is such a thing. There's a very wide range of maturity among 12-year-olds, and a single 12-year-old's maturity can vary widely from one day to the next. Trying to grow up, modeling on the parents, it's what they do.

Southern Writer said...

This isn't a book I would pull from the shelf and read for myself, but I began where Miss Snark said to begin and was drawn right in. Nice job. The one thing I wondered is if the protag is male or female. Jessie is kind of an androgynous name. I began to guess she's female when I got here:

I pulled my hand out from under Dad’s to wipe it on my shorts. Since my thighs were sticking to the chair, I put both hands underneath them.

I also disagree that I took my parents' lead and pretended I could handle this is out of character for a twelve year old. She just sounds like a level-headed kid to me.

The topic is certainly timely. Maybe someone can get it into print quickly. Best of luck with it.

Anonymous said...

Good job. I also agree with MS about where to start.

Because the topic is so today, do what you need to do to clear your schedule to write this book. Writing and selling a ms. takes so long, and others will work on Iraq novels, too. You'll be better off on the cutting edge than somewhere in the middle of the pack, when editors begin to say, "Um, another Iraq novel . . ."

McKoala said...

I like Virginia Miss's suggestion. One question from me: where are the twins?! The house seems awfully quiet and clean for a place with young twins.

LadyBronco said...

"I took my parents' lead and pretended I could handle this"

Sounds like something my 13 year old would do if faced with a heavy moment like this one.

I am very impressed. I hope this one gets published. I will buy it in a heartbeat.

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Wow. Congratulations author. I like a book that hides a little medicine/lesson under the sugar of an interesting, relevant story and good writing. And I think the topic would generate a bit of controversy and publicity. Good for sales.
(I've done something similar with autism -- wrapped the bitter story within sweet pastry with funny frosting on top.
Glad to see MS approves of the concept of saying something - even within fiction.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I would read and buy this book for all the children I know. Kids need this book. Do let us know when the book is published. I want to buy it as a gift.

Anonymous said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but why would you push this book, again? Is it because it's a great book, or is it because you think the ideological message it might send is great? Speaking as someone actually in the Army "Reserves" (please tell this author they have already fucked up before their first page is through; there is no 's' on the end of Reserve...) we don't need another "Jarhead" on the market; especially not written from a faux childhood perspective by someone who doesn't seem to have any practical experience in the military.

Anonymous said...

You really capture the voice of a 11-year-old well.

Anonymous said...

I lost my father to the Vietnam War right after I turned two. I would buy this book; there are so many kids growing up without a parent. Desperately needed. Market to bookstores in military communities.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

Would the timeliness of this story hurt an agent's ability to place it? What if the war ended this year? Would that hurt the salability of this manuscript?

Please forgive me if this question seems ignorant--I'm still learning! It's just that I've read publishers fill their lists out at least a year or two in advance.

Anonymous said...

I hope we are out of there before the time it would take for a new book to be sold and on the shelf.

There are serious mistakes just in this small section that would make me concerned about the rest of the ms.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why this "issue" is acceptable but other hooks with issues (such as global warming) were considered no-nos. Surely what matters is the story-telling.

I would rally behind this one more if the narrator's voice was more distinct.