Entry 5: LIFE, DEATH, AND HIGH SCHOOL
16-year-old Olivia’s fate[WA1] hangs on the beeps and blips of a heart monitor.[LO1] Her best friend detaches [WA2], her boyfriend Dylan gets needy [WA3], but all she can think about is a little boy in a coma and the brake pedal she didn’t have time to hit.[LC1]
While Olivia attempts to magical-think the boy alive, [LO2] Dylan’s obsession with Olivia grows. When she breaks up with him, he knows exactly what the problem is. Or, rather, who. A pillow is so easy to hold over a little boy’s face. [WA4][LO3]
LIFE, DEATH, AND HIGH SCHOOL [LC2]is a contemporary young adult novel complete at 55,000 words. It is told through multiple POVs in a multimedia journal format, including audio [WA5], written, and graphic entries. This novel might appeal to fans of Jennifer Mathieu’s THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE and Amber Smith’s THE WAY I USED TO BE.[LO4]
Thank you for your time and consideration. [WA6]
[WA1]: What is meant by “fate”? What happens if he dies? (e.g., She can’t forgive herself? Or she goes to jail for manslaughter?)
[WA2]: This bit feels out of place, since the best friend is never named and isn’t included in the rest of the query.
[WA3]: There’s a big leap from needy to obsessed and willing to kill. Is this obsession a major plotline? Or just plot point?
[WA4]: I need more here. I don’t have a clear sense of what this story is going to be. Is it the “magical thinking” leading up Dylan trying to kill (or actualy killing) the little boy? Or is it the aftermath… and if so, what IS the aftermath?
[WA5]: By audio, do you mean audio transcriptios? Or actual audio readers would have to listen to?
[WA6]: Overall, this query needs more focus. I need to have a stronger sense of what, exactly, this book is tackling.
[LC1]: This opening is confusing. Is Olivia the one with the heart monitor, or the little boy? Introduce the situation more clearly.
[LC2]: When the title appeared, I immediately thought, “Wait…that’s it?” I have the whole story right here. Where’s the suspense, intrigue, mystery? I would stop reading here, quite befuddled.
[LO1]: The suggestion here is that it’s her heart monitor, rather than another person’s. It feels a bit disorienting to get to the end of the paragraph and find out it’s really her “victim’s” monitor. Might establish the fact of her accident earlier on. E.g., “After a devastating accident, 16-year-old Olivia’s fact…” etc.
[LO2]: I’m afraid this suggests a rather inert character in Olivia, since you haven’t presented a real driving goal for her. Obviously, her scenes can’t be built around her thinking and wishing, so what is she doing during the narrative? What goal is she trying to reach, and how does that move her through the story?
[LO3]: I’d love to know if Dylan actually kills the boy and Olivia’s quest is to prove he did it, or if she somehow gets wind of his plan and her quest is to stop him. Certainly a compelling detail.
[LO4]: I’m intrigued by the multimedia format, but I’d love for the query to suggest a narrative scope that will make those elements organic and necessary. Not quite seeing that here, unfortunately.
First 250 words
Dear Officer Jones:
Please let me state again for the record that I do not believe it is right to force me to hand over these journals. I promised my students I wouldn’t read them, and for you, I’ve broken that promise. I hope you find it was worth it.
I selected entries that I thought were the most relevant to this case. One per week, that’s all they were assigned. It’s poetry, all of it. I hope you see that.
My best friend died last night. [LO2] Not in the technical sense, not in the actual sense, but she’ll never again be the Olivia I grew up with. In that way, she’s gone. Dead. Something new might take her place or maybe not. I don’t know.[LO3]
I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to write about it. I don’t want to think. I just want to not. It’s been the only thing in the world since last night, the only think[LC1], and I need to stop. I’ve never been so happy to come to school.[LO4]
I guess I should write about our school, because I don’t want to write about the other thing. I need to practice describing things, anyway. Mr. Mintz says the scene descriptions in my one-act need more detail. So Laura Dixon High School is really old, like 1800s old.[LO5]
[LC1]: I’d stop right here with the spelling error. There is mostly telling in this opening (and not telling, as this narrator doesn’t want to talk about it. Why would I continue listening?) going on, and a quick glance shows it continues in this vein. A narrator avoiding the topic/mystery/intrigue can be done in a more clever, showing way without the narrator declaring they don’t want to talk about it.
[LO1]: I’m not sure you’re served by having an adult voice open the narrative. You might present the entries without the context and reveal that they’re part of an ongoing class assignment later on in the piece.
[LO2]: Compelling line.
[LO3]: It doesn’t feel reasonable to me that Jenna would have this perspective, which takes such a long view, the night after the accident. Instead of being so abstract/philosophical, I wonder if you might weave in more concrete detail about the accident itself here. Even if you don’t want to lay out the specifics because of a big narrative reveal to come, you might still start building world, characters, and conflict(s) here.
[LO4]: Is it likely she’d be in school the day after her best friend was involved in such an accident?
[LO5]: I’m afraid this might come across as a bit author-driven rather than character-driven. If she’s going to describe something, would the school itself be her first choice, or would she home in on some element of her classroom--the mood of it, post-accident, perhaps? Or some aspect of her friends/other students? Even though she doesn’t want to think about the accident, I would think the fact of it would permeate everything. It also seems to me that you have an opportunity to build in some mystery/intrigue around the circumstances of the accident. Perhaps intimate that there are questions still to be answered. Build some tension between what Jenna believes about it and what others seem to fit. We need more here to draw us into the book and prompt us to turn pages.