Monday, August 22, 2011

Opening Lines--The YA Contemporary Edition

Welcome to part three of my Opening Lines series! 

If you've been following the series, you know I've already tackled opening lines in YA paranormal romance and the YA dystopian/sci-fi/post-apocalyptic mashup. Today, though, I'm tackling yet another genre: contemporary fiction. 

Le opening lines:

"It is my first morning of high school"--Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak.

"Everyone knows I'm perfect"--Simone Elkeles, Perfect Chemistry.

"The first feeling is exhilaration"--Hannah Moskowitz, Break.

"Goebbels materialized on the back patio, right before we moved to Baltimore, and started chewing through the wicker love seat"--Natalie Standiford, How To Say Goodbye In Robot.

"Jason was going to Brain Camp"--Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever.

"The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle"--John Green, Paper Towns.

"I liked him first, but it doesn't matter"--Elizabeth Scott, The Unwritten Rule

"I should have known"--Kristin Walker, A Match Made In High School

"The day I broke up with my boyfriend Evan was the day he wrote the song"--Robin Benway, Audrey, Wait!

"Three things I know this second: I have morning breath, I'm naked, and I'm waking up next to a boy I don't know"--Daisy Whitney, The Mockingbirds.

"Imagine four years"--Courtney Summers, Cracked Up To Be.

"For the record, I wasn't around the day they decided to become Dumb"--Antony John, Five Flavors of Dumb.

"The winds in Washokey make people go crazy"--Kirsten Hubbard, Like Mandarin.

"I watch drops of water fall from the ends of my hair"--Nina LaCour, Hold Still.

"I, Frankie Landau-Banks, hereby confess that I was the sole mastermind behind the mal-doings of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds"--E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

"This was getting old"--Kody Keplinger, The DUFF.

"Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge"--Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss.

After reading all those opening lines, there's one thing that jumps out at me: they are all telling. Despite the similar openings, they are all different. Why, you ask? Because they all have their own voice

And lots of it.

For example, The Mockingbirds and Anna and the French Kiss open with a list. But notice the tone in each sentence. Is it the same? Are these main characters super happy about their current situations? No. Are they both scared? Yes, but the source of Anna's fear isn't the source of Alex's fear. Also, Anna seems to be pretty sarcastic, while Alex is straight-up blunt. 

In contemporary fiction, readers may find telling opening lines, but what counts is the attitude with which authors choose to kick off their storiesIf that opening line makes you:

  • laugh out loud (Five Flavors of Dumb, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Anna and the French Kiss
  • feel compassion (Speak, The Unwritten Rule, Hold Still, The Mockingbirds
  • sit back and go "WTF?" (Perfect Chemistry, How To Say Goodbye In Robot, Audrey, Wait!, The Truth About Forever, Like Mandarin)
  • not know what's going on, but forces you to find out (Paper Towns, The DUFF, A Match Made In High School, Break, Cracked Up To Be've gotten a taste of what's to come, and of who's going to lead you to it. This is why I believe telling opening lines show you who the MC is by spelling out what he/she is experiencing, or what they think about their circumstances

So there you go, folks. YA contemporary fiction features a ton of opening lines that pull some serious double duty. If you're working on a contemp story right now, read as much as you can, and make that first sentence as awesome as the ones above :)

Now tell me: any opening lines from YA contemporary books you love? 


Katrina L. Lantz said...

I love this series on first lines. I'm learning so much! I especially loved the Like Mandarin opening line. It's setting and the promise of an interesting story all in one.

I definitely get your point about double-duty. :)

LinWash said...

Since I just finished reading A Match Made in High School, I immediately laughed at its opening line. Sometimes you need more context. The rest of the paragraph is absolutely hilarious.

Theresa Milstein said...

I loved the beginning of Anna and the French Kiss. It was interesting to see her be wary and clueless about France, but then get braver as time went on.

I liked the writing and opening lines of Like Mandarin, but the characterization didn't work for me. While first lines are important, they can lead to expectations that don't necessarily deliver.

Pam Harris said...

Great variety! I especially love the one from Courtney Summers because...well, I LOVE Courtney Summers. :) One of my faves that isn't up there is the opening line from Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Too funny.

Marquita Hockaday said...

This is so cool! All of the lines you chose are so intriguing. I've read some of those books, but now I want to read ALL of them.

This made me think about my own opening line of The Blues (my contemporary) and it is telling. It's blunt, straightforward, and about murder. I think it follows the rules that you pointed out least I hope so.

Landra Graf said...

Awesome post! It's very interesting to see different first line's compared to one another. Funny part is that I actually felt the same emotions as Amparo described them.

I honestly can't think of a single YA opening line novel right now for the life of me, but I can remember that books I enjoyed had a similar structure. A sentence with voice that struck you.

Becca Puglisi said...

GREAT breakdown on why these first lines work. I'm currently reading Franny Billingsley's CHIME, which happens to have an awesome opener: I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.

Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse