Thursday, October 21, 2021

October 2021 Pass or Pages Entry #4


It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Kaitlyn Johnson, Hilary Harwell, Michelle Hauck, Beth Marshea, Carlisle Webber, Cortney Radocaj, for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!

Entry 4: The Journey We Share

Genre: Contemporary


Dear X,

I feel you’d be a great fit for my 74,000-word contemporary YA manuscript, THE JOURNEY WE SHARE. The novel alternates timelines[KJ1] between three major characters[CR1][MH1][CW1].

Every day is a battle for fifteen-year-olds Steven and Mpholo.

Steven wishes his life was normal at his New England boarding school, that he could simply go to class and get a date; but his friend recently died, he gets panic attacks, and is tempted[BM1] to cope with drugs.

Meanwhile, Mpholo struggles to raise his younger siblings in stigma-rich[CR2] Uganda after their parents die from AIDS. He dreams of the day he will have money and friends, but inescapable unemployment and exclusion from his community means he may not see his dream come to fruition.

On the surface, the two teenagers have almost nothing in common; however, their lives link when Mpholo and Steven’s friends introduce them to a memoir by Mira[CW2], a fifteen-year-old in India who struggles to complete her education while dealing with an abusive father. When her father announces plans to marry her off, she devises a plan to escape, finish her education, and write a memoir[CR3][CW3].

As Steven and Mpholo read Mira’s book, they find themselves moved to reach their dreams. But when Steven’s roommate suspects his drug usage and Mpholo is kicked out of his village[MH2], they’re forced to make crucial decisions – to get clean or get caught; to return to the village or move away, respectively[KJ2][CR4][BM2][CW4].

THE JOURNEY WE SHARE illustrates how fears and dreams are universal and the ways they connect us are more meaningful than they appear. It will appeal to readers of WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed and THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness[CW5].

Thank you for your consideration.


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ1] Does it alternate timelines or points of view? Timelines would make me think this isn't technically contemporary. From the other info, I can see the timeline of the memoir may be past but the boys are both contemporary. Due to this, I would say POVs not timelines.
[KJ2] My worry here is that we don't truly see the boys' storylines come together at all. They forever remain apart. While i think this may be the intent behind your stated themes, it's hard to know (without reading the full) that there will be enough union of situation for it to make sense for the side-by-side of the boys.

Hilary's comments: None

Michelle's comments:
[MH1] I’m glad you share this information. 
[MH2] Loving this query so far but why he got kicked out is unclear. Maybe a hint of that above in the paragraph about him.

Beth's comments:
[BM1] This is too passive. Does he turn to drugs to cope or doesn’t he? If he doesn’t, why bring it up in the query?
[BM2] This sounds like a book of parallel story lines which is generally a red flag for me. It is incredibly difficult to get a reader to engage equally with two different stories equally which leaves them generally feeling like they wish it was one or the other. I think both sound engaging, but it makes me very hesitant. 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW1] Delete this last sentence. 
[CW2] If Steven is in NE and Mpholo is in Uganda, who do they meet? How do they have mutual friends? 
[CW3] Didn’t she already write the memoir, though? That’s what it sounds like in the previous sentence, because how else could the boys be introduced to it? 
[CW4] Do they ever meet in person? Other than reading the same book, I’m not sure how their lives are linked.
[CW5] I would delete this.

Cortney's comments:
[CR1] The rest of the query only focuses on two characters—where does the third come in? I’d just cut this sentence entirely; the fact that there’s two very different POVs set up in the query tells me that it’s not a single POV story, and saying that there’s a third major character without bringing them into the query at all is a little confusing.
[CR2] I’m not sure what “stigma-rich” means—stigma against what? From whom?
[CR3] Is the third major character Mira? If so, I’d still say cut the line I mentioned above; I’m getting the sense that Mira’s story is more of a backdrop to Steven and Mpholo’s, as theirs seem to be the what the book is going to revolve around. 
[CR4] I’m a little concerned about how everything connects with this book; I’m not seeing any space where Steven and Mpholo are ever in contact with one another, and thus their storylines look to be completely separate. There’s the thread of both boys reading the memoir, but I’m not seeing anything indicating this matters to their two stories converging together. There are books that do this, yes, where two storylines never truly affect the other, but I personally am not really a fan of them; if there are multiple POVs, I need them to deal with one another somehow, to matter to an overall plot arc why we’re getting some information from one perspective, and other information from another.

First 250 Words

“Arre[KJ3]…move out of the way! Why are you just standing there?” the man screamed as he pushed a cart overflowing with coconuts around a young girl[CW6].

“Sorry, sir. Sorry.” Mira moved to the side of the dirt road, her cheeks burning, though the sun was not out yet.

“Stupid girl – standing in the street like that,” the man yelled as he forged onwards, “people have work to do. Unlike you.”

Mira gave a weak smile and nodded, but she threw daggers at him with her eyes. As she continued down the side of the road, she consoled herself with the thought that one of these days she would tell the man to go[MH3] to hell. But not today.

The[CW7] daily walk to work reminded Mira of her broken dreams. At the corner, she passed the school she used to attend. In a couple of hours, other girls her age would sit on wooden benches diligently taking notes about algebra or literature, while she would slave away for hours listening to a barrage of insults from her father in the kitchen[CW8]. She missed her literature classes in particular, reading and discussing Hesse or Rushdie; and she longed for the elation she experienced when her teachers gave her an ‘A’ on a paper. Thinking of the past and what was, Mira’s chest tightened[CR5][BM3][MH4].

Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ3] I don't believe this is the strongest way to open the book. We start with random dialogue and don't know the setting, the POV, or why this is important. I was surprised to start with Mira rather than one of the boys, since the later inclusion of Mira helps them both in coping with situations. I had thought the boys would be main POVs and Mira's would peek in here and there as a more memoir voice, tying in the moments the boys find themselves in similar experiences or problems. This acting out as a present day feel for Mira's timeline strikes me as odd.

Hilary's comments: There are a lot of interesting components to the pitch, but they didn’t quite come together for me in a way that made me feel confident the story itself would hold together. I also like to be settled in a bit more to the characters/setting before the action and dialog kicks off.
Michelle's comments:
[MH3] Maybe more generic “men like this to go to hell” Since she might not ever see this particular man again. 
[MH4] I like that there is a balance of action and backstory/introspection here. Darker issue stories are a tough fit for me, but I would request pages on this one!

Beth's comments:
[BM3] The query is all about the two boys, but the book starts with Mira? I would consider adding the fictional memoir in later and starting with one of the protagonists. The selection provided doesn’t read like a memoir, so is there a part of the manuscript you’re submitting that actually covers Mira’s point of view or is it just excerpts from her book. In the query, make sure you’re clear about what we should be expecting when we receive the first pages. 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW6] Beginning a book with dialogue is very difficult because the reader doesn’t yet know who any of the characters are or why they’re saying the things they are. I suggest establishing the scene first, then starting the dialogue. 
[CW7] This is a more appropriate place for the book to start, with the introduction of the main character and a look at her life.
[CW8] Is her work in a restaurant or hotel? If so, elaborate, because it’s too easy to assume she’s being kept at home because she can hear her father in the kitchen.  

Cortney's comments:
[CR4] This feels a little odd, to open in Mira’s perspective when Steven and Mpholo’s were the ones so heavily focused on in the query. It confirms my thought that she might have been the third POV, but hers is definitely not what the story seems to be “about”, or where the focus will be, so it feels a little jarring to open with her and not one of the boys.


Results:  [If you receive a "Pages!", click on the agent's name here or at the top of this post for submission instructions.]

Kaitlyn: Pass
Hilary: Pass
Michelle: Pages!
Beth: Pass
Carlisle: Pass
Cortney: Pass


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