Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Effective openings in MG and YA part 4

The combination of attending the Read and Critique Xtreme at the Pikes Peak Conference and reading Hooked has made me hyper-aware of story openings. One of the criteria for a great hook, according to Les Edgerton, the author of Hooked, is that the first sentence should encompass the entire story. This is a lofty goal, and I don't think I've come across many books that fulfill it. But I read one recently that does that.

Homeless Bird
by Gloria Whelan

"Koly, you are thirteen and growing every day," Maa said to me. "it's time for you to have a husband."

Thirteen and she has to find a husband! That certainly makes us sit up; we know we're not in Kansas anymore. The name, Koly, and how Maa is spelt confirms that this story takes place in a different place.

But beyond telling us that the story doesn't take place in our society, this first sentence does, in fact, encompass the whole story. Koly's experiences from having to be married off at the age of thirteen, and everything else that resulted from it: that is the story.

This book, which won the National Book Award in 2000, is much more than its hook, of course. I get transported to Koly's world, feeling her despair and holding on to her hope. Because my first novel takes place within a different culture, I have wrestled with problems of how to put readers in my world, to provide authenticity without pretending to be a social studies text, and to find universality in the experiences of the characters. Homeless Bird does all that. It's definitely a book I'll be re-reading and studying.

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