Monday, January 4, 2016

First Impressions - SWEPT

Happy 2016 everyone and welcome back to another edition of First Impressions, whereby Dianne Salerni, Krystalyn Drown, and I critique someone's first page. This month we only have one, an MG fantasy from Christian Bensing. You can find him on Facebook.

Chapter 1:  3pm
Bobby Conrad used every last ounce of his brain power in an attempt to somehow stop the marathoning minute hand of Mrs. Winkey's clock from reaching its destination, but its will was unstoppable, silently cheered on by the eager eyes of his classmates.  Three o'clock, and the end of the school day, had come despite Bobby's best efforts to forestall the dreaded moment when he would have to leave the safety of the classroom and enter the unsupervised, terrifying world seventh graders of his minimal stature and reputation had to face on a daily basis.  If only Mrs. Winkey's algebra test, which looked to Bobby as if it were written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, had not racked his brain to the point of delirium, maybe he could have stopped that clock through sheer concentration and enjoyed the serenity of 2:59 for a few more precious seconds.  Instead, the minute hand ticked forward with one more click.  The bell rang, and his classmates scattered.  Bobby faced the fact that he had to go home, his own virtual prison.  The only thing worse was getting there.
            Bobby slowly shuffled through the classroom door to the bustling hallway.  He took one last look at Mrs. Winkey, who seemed to take great pleasure in dishing out deliberately dramatic red slashes  across the test she held in her hands.  Her eyes went from the test to Bobby, then back to the test and back to Bobby again.  It was as if she had to restrain the corners of her crooked mouth from forming a smirk.  Winkey's eyes continued this dance as her head swayed sideways, back and forth in disapproval.  Bobby knew deep in his heart she was grading his test.  He impulsively looked at his feet as metal locker doors crashed closed behind him.
            “Crap,” was all he could say in a hushed tone as he found a break in the hallway traffic and exited the room with the cartoon-like vision of a sneering Mrs. Winkey engrained in his brain.
            Bobby navigated his way to his locker and waited for the hallway to clear before he dared open it.  He

slowly gathered his books and stuffed them into his backpack.  The backpack had seen better days and already

had more stitches in it than Frankenstein's monster after a car accident.  A new tear had developed which required

repair, and Bobby could clearly see his recently acquired library book, Strange Tales of the Weird, peeking out

one of its sharp, new corners.  The sight of the book made him forget all about the bloodied math test and Mrs.

Winkey's mocking features.  He had gone to great lengths to secure this book, having stalked its very first

borrower, Randy Reinhold, the entire first week Randy had it, waiting for its return to the general circulation. 

When that rat Randy had renewed the book for yet another week, Bobby almost lost his mind. 

First thoughts: One space between sentences, not two, and is it really that bad being a short 7th grade boy? I was teased relentlessly in 7th grade but I wasn’t terrified; it just ruined any self-esteem I had. Or has the teasing upgraded to physical bullying? In which case terrified would be quite apt. 

Further thoughts: Mrs. Winkey isn’t a very nice teacher. I hope Bobby has some nice teachers in contrast. Why the long spaces between the sentences at the end? I found it distracting, but maybe this was an error in formatting. And why Bobby’s fascination with the book? What’s so important about it? I would want to read more and find out. 

Final thoughts: This is a great set up. The reader is immediately sympathetic with Bobby, and while his extreme interest in the book seems, well, weird, it also creates the need to find out why. What’s special about this book? Why is he dying to get his hands on it? And what’s going to happen to Bobby on his way home. Excellent beginning!

Readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this first page and I know Christian would appreciate any feedback. Thanks and don't forget to go visit Dianne and Krystalyn to see what they thought.


  1. It did have a lot of personality to it. What age is it aimed at though? I thought many of the sentences were too long.

  2. I was also going to say that the sentences tend to be too long. Especially the first sentence.

  3. I got a bit lost in the first paragraph due the sentence structures. I had to reread it a few times. I think there needs to be more on why he/she is terrified though or at least hints to help me sympathize with the MC.

  4. I was intrigued, but wanted to know more about the MC age and what the story conflict is about. I already like the MC since he likes to read.

  5. I would agree that some of the sentences are too long, and about the formatting question but more please. Which says it all.

  6. The question of what is so important about the book is a great hook.

    Perhaps its just me; but seems like every MG and YA book I pick up starts with the end of a class, a bad grade on the test, a mean teacher, and a walk through halls full of kids that don't like the mc because of some physical or emotional default. Of course, that could be just what the criteria expects for this genre.

    Well written set up, decent pacing.

  7. A good start! Best of luck with it!


  8. I can vouch for the fact that being short in the seventh grade can be tough for a boy. I was a foot shorter than I am now. The world was a far more intimidating place.

  9. This story sets a good hook by leaving readers with questions about things like his home being a "virtual prison" and Bobby's great interest in that particular book. I'd keep reading, and I think young readers would, too.

  10. Now, isn't he a dashing fellow!

  11. It has a good hook. There are definitely some questions. With a little smoothing of the prose (and formatting), I could see this being a winner. I would read on.

  12. I commented on Dianne's blog, but wanted to come over here and see what you wrote. I didn't even realize there was a book involved till you mentioned it. Guess I didn't make it past the description of the backpack. My bad...

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  14. Agree with watching those run-on sentences. This is a compelling opening, telling us this boy is facing a lot in his life. I will say, it would be a disappointment to find out he was being overly dramatic. It's rough to be a short boy (my brother was a "shrimp" until Sophomore year), but the level of terror will depend upon how he is actually treated. I wonder if he's misunderstanding the teacher, or if she really has an issue with him. There were a lot of questions raised, actually. I'd want to know why his home life was so bad.


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