Monday, February 15, 2021

First Page Critique - YA Contemporary
We received a First Page Critique entry.  In other words, another brave soul needs our help! It's up to all of us [including YOU] to provide that help.  Please offer your thoughts in the comments section.

Reminder: Be nice, but be honest. [Comments that are not polite/respectful will be deleted.] What would YOU like to know if this was YOUR first page? Do you think it has a good opening line? Does it have a hook? Does it pull you into the story? Do you want to read more? Why or why not? Be specific, so your critique helps the person who wrote the entry.

Category/Genre – YA Contemporary

Shakespeare is the worst.

I can’t stifle the sound that escapes when Mr. Bookman announces we’ll be reading Romeo and Juliet. (And no, the irony of an English teacher named Bookman isn’t lost on anyone.) My groan joins a chorus of disapproval.

Not from Remy, though. I look at him—today he’s wearing a brown and white striped skirt over green leggings and a green fabric headband thing—and he smiles. Always one for romance, even if we won’t understand when the romantic parts are happening.

Mr. Bookman enlists a couple kids to pass out copies. Flipping quickly through the book, I slump in my seat. It’s hard to say if I’m more depressed by the pages with lots of footnotes or the ones with just a few.

Without wasting any time, we go over the characters, then Mr. Bookman calls two guys to the front and assigns them parts. To read out loud. On day one. I could be wrong, but shouldn’t Shakespeare have a little foreplay? Maybe some 16th century English lessons before reciting iambic pentameter in front of a crowd?

Ruben and Judah take the toy swords Mr. Bookman hands them, and the first thing Ruben does, of course, is hold it in front of him like a penis. Dick.

Several people laugh, but Mr. Bookman waves his hand. “Don’t worry. We’ll get to the sex references soon enough.”

Someone catcalls as Mr. Bookman signals for Judah to start reading.


  1. I like the voice in the opening - it's very relatable, especially the quip about the teacher's name.

    But after reading the rest of the page, I'm unsure about who the main character is. Several other characters are named, but we get no sense of their relationship to the MC or if they are going to be important to the story. I suspect Remy will be because of the level of description we get of him, but it's unclear why or in what way.

    I'm not sure about saying they won't understand the romance. Shakespeare isn't that difficult to understand once you get into it. Maybe this is an indication of what your MC is like, always jumping to conclusions about how terrible they are at things even before they try?

    It would be helpful to get the MC's name somewhere in this first page. Perhaps Mr. Bookman could ask them (we also have no idea of how this MC identifies in terms of gender) to hand out the books, or someone else could address them.

    A little more about who the MC is would go a long way to better ground the reader in the story. Right now I don't know who I'm following and why. My only real clue is the Romeo and Juliet association which leads me to believe there will be romance - forbidden or star crossed perhaps...

  2. Hi, Kate. Thanks for your comments. This is a multiple-POV book, and in the actual manuscript, each chapter starts with the character's name - "Gage" in this case. I should have included it as part of the first 250 pages. And yes, Gage struggling to understand Shakespeare is part of his character. I appreciate you giving me your feedback!

  3. I definitely like the voice. And like Kate I'm confused as to who the POV character is in this part. If you title the chapter with the POV's name, that's a start.

    You mention Remy and call that character "he", but then you describe that he's wearing a skirt and leggings and headband. This is confusing to me because I wonder if he's trans, but it sounds more like he's either Scottish or a cross dresser and not trans. Or in costume? Maybe I'm completely wrong but it's confusing and takes me out of the story. Perhaps have the POV character think/comment about why he notices Remy's clothing to clear up any confusion?

    You write that Mr. Bookman enlists a couple "kids" to distribute copies. When I was in HS, I would NOT have called fellow students "kids". Not sure about today's HS students [I'm old and write MG], but thought I would mention it.

    Voice is the hardest, so I'm told, and you have good voice. Good luck!

  4. Thanks, Dena. Totally understandable comments. Remy is gender nonconforming but not trans - I get into that in Gage's next chapter, but maybe I could add a line in this opening scene since I can see where that would be helpful. And I always appreciate points about what real "kids" would say. :-) I'm eager for my 8-year-old to get to high school so I can tap into her to check things like this, lol. I appreciate the comments about the voice! Thanks again for your feedback.

  5. This comment was misdirected and came to our email:

    First off, I would substitue the word "disapproval" in the first paragraph with "others in the classroom." I'd like to know where the new 'students of Shakespeare' are for the reading of R and J. The names Remy, Bookman, Ruben, and Judah suggest that this is a school forJewish students. True? And is it a boys-only school? Otherwise the teacher would have undoubtedly chosen a girl to read the part of Juliet. If it is a Jewish school, the teacher seems a bit 'permissive' about where Ruben held his sword, as I would have expected a more stern reprimand. (Why the swords, does R and J begin with swordplay? I don't recall). Is the protagonist of this story a male? Why the abhorrence for R and J, as Shakespeare always seems to be a substantive part of school English classes. Is it perhaps because of a previous boring encounter with the Bard? Or is the protagonist gay?

    I really need more 'world-building' (just another couple of sentences might do) to place me as reader more firmly into the context of this story opening and spike my curiosity as to why the protagonist is about to embark on a journey into Shakespeare - and especially with Romeo and Juliet - that (he?) is not happy about taking. Having said that, though, the writing is good.

  6. Thanks, Dena, for providing this feedback!


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