As always, I'd like to thank our author and editor for their hard work. See you next week!
The Frost Jack
Jack took a step towards the five boys who’d arrayed themselves in a menacing line before him. His Etnies came away from the ground with a sticky crackle. Squinting into the glare of the midsummer sun, he wondered whether the heat had melted their soles.
“You’re dead, Summers,” snarled a podgy figure from the centre of the bullies.
“Get lost, you oick,” Jack growled back, glad that his voice didn’t betray his racing heartbeat.
The bully stomped forward. “Think you can take on five of us?” he jeered. “You’ll be mincemeat by the time we’re finished with you.”
His shadow loomed large across the wall of the old fives court. Nobody could remember the rules of the game anymore and the secluded spot behind the quadrangle had fallen into disuse, becoming the bullies’ kingdom, the place where smaller kids were chewed up and spat back out, usually without their pocket money. Jack gritted his teeth and held his ground, as anger built up inside him. Another crackle came from under his feet, but this time it sounded like glass fracturing.
A bead of sweat began to form on the bully’s lardy forehead and he stopped only a step away to glance back over his shoulder. His four friends grinned and grunted at him and he turned back to face Jack with his piggy little eyes full of malice.
“Come on, then,” Jack snarled.
“You’re going to regret this, Summers!” the bully shouted and then he lunged forward and swung a meaty fist in a gigantic arc aimed straight at Jack’s head.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
Note: Julie mentioned to me that the author is British, and I’ve taken that into account as I’ve reviewed this piece. There is some British slang and vocabulary herein, but I was able to decipher most of it with the help of the surrounding text.
What I like about this piece is that it presents a hot-button young adult issue from the outset. The story begins as Jack faces off against a herd of schoolyard bullies. The stakes are immediately high, and the bullies waste no time homing in on their outnumbered target. Perhaps most poignant in these first paragraphs is Jack’s racing heart; in the face of intimidation, he does his best to put on a brave face despite his overwhelming fear. This vulnerability is bound to resonate with teen readers, many of whom have likely experienced bullying behavior.
I also like the setting. The story turns an otherwise innocuous location, a fives court, and makes it menacing. The shadows add to the ominous ambience. As the shadows and bullies descend, Jack plants his feet again and prepares for confrontation.
What I found interesting was the way the ground beneath Jack’s feet changed with his resolve. At the beginning of story, he is terrified, and his shoes melt against the hot pavement as his fear intensifies. Later, as he builds his confidence and prepares to face off against the group, we experience the shattering of glass beneath his feet. This shift from melting soles to shattering glass symbolizes (at least to me) a certain strengthening of his resolve. He wavers at the beginning and reaches a breaking point by the end.
This first page sustains a high level of suspense throughout. From the outset, we’re holding our breath as the author sets up the imminent confrontation between Jack and the bullies. Although the narrative is suspense-driven, we learn a little bit about Jack through his racing heartbeat and mounting anger. This first page happens to end with a fist flying toward Jack’s face, and this is impetus enough for the reader to continue to the next page . . . and the next.