I cannot stop listening to Ready, Steady, Go by Paul Oakenfold. It's like it is the new theme song for the book I'm working on. Have you heard it? Click here for the link to it on Youtube. You have to hear it and if you read my book in the future, you should listen to it while you're reading. Ha!
On to First Page Friday
by Rebecca Talley
Shakespeare? I yawned and then drummed my pencil on my desk while Ms. Neal with her purple-streaked hair and diamond stud nose jewel read the lines from Romeo and Juliet like she was caressing each word." Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble - And I will do it without fear or doubt, To live an unstain'd wife to my sweet love," she said with far too much emotion. I rolled my eyes to myself and tuned out the rest of what she read.
Of course, being in theater required that I love Shakespeare so I kept it my little secret that I thought all of his plays were lame. I was thrilled when we moved and I started attending this high school in Colorado, my fourth one in as many years, and found out we wouldn't be doing any Shakespeare plays this year. My senior year. Thank goodness for small favors.
"Crystal, what do you get from this passage?" Ms. Neal said in her raspy, I'm-a-two-pack-a-day-smoker tone.
I tapped my forehead tying in vain to recall all that she'd read. Nothing came. Not a word. I bit my lip hoping to come up with something intelligent to say. I heard some snickering in the back of the class from the perfume-laden group of girls that took every opportunity to harass me. Chantelle Austin seemed to be the primary Crystal-hater of the group. I had no idea why she gave me the death glare or said rude comments about me under her breath, but I knew my face was bright red--the curse of fair skin and easy embarrassment, something I'd inherited from my Swedish mother. "Ummm . . . "
"Try paying attention Miss Scott." Ms. Neal glared at me with eyes that didn't seem like her own. They seemed distant, vacant, lifeless. I blinked several times and then dismissed it as my overactive imagination.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
I have mixed feelings about the use of Shakespeare in this piece. More often than not, the Bard’s presence in a story feels forced, perhaps even cliché. In this case, however, we have a heroine who doesn’t worship the ground he walks on—a refreshing deviation from the norm, since people often pretend to appreciate/understand Shakespeare in the name of maintaining their literary street cred. Granted, Crystal is just a teenager, so for all I know this story might involve a journey toward Shakespeare appreciation.
Ms. Neal, the apparent villain-to-be, feels a bit one-dimensional to me. The story seems to dismiss her on the grounds that she has post-punk fashion sense and is a smoker. These things do not a villain make. The most vivid details about her are her tendency to fawn over Shakespeare’s writing and her lifeless eyes. Otherwise, it feels like the narrator/story is punishing her for superficial reasons.
As for Crystal herself, we don’t learn much about her. She strikes me as the kind of teen who is always sullen, always rolling her eyes at something. I think that, if she’s going to carry the story, she needs to make a stronger first impression. There are compelling tidbits here: that she’s the new girl at school, that her family moves around a lot (as evidenced by her “my fourth one in as many years” comment), that she’s bullied by a group of “mean girls,” and that she enjoys theater. She just needs to come alive with these details. Right now, as I mentioned above, she spends most of the first page talking about the things/people she doesn’t like, which makes her seem unapproachable. The yawning and pencil drumming in the second sentence make her seem disrespectful, which may or may not have been the intended result.
We don’t know much at this point, but there are strong hints that Ms. Neal will assume an adversarial role and that Crystal will have to contend with bullying. It would be interesting to know where this story is headed. Right now, I can only make wild guesses based on certain clues from this first page.
Thanks so much to Rebecca and Ms. Shreditor. I thought there was a lot of potential with this piece and would love to read more! I really appreciate all the effort everyone goes to when they submit and critique each week. See you next Friday, when we'll be critiquing a middle grade page.