Today’s First Impression post comes from Kate Brauning. This is the first page of her untitled YA contemporary:
My mom was a pothead in college. I'm convinced this is how we got to where we are now. I’ve seen her college pictures- denim shorts and waist-length braids. A guy-stopping smile.
People say we look alike, but I don’t have the smile or the hair. I do wear jean shorts nine months out of the year, but I refuse to do the braids. Braids make redheads look like Pippi Longstocking.
I was wearing jean shorts the day I first saw Sylvia. I was glad I’d chosen them that morning, since they look good on me. Sylvia Young walked across the grass to our roadside produce stand, each step of her sandaled feet bringing closer the ruinous end of my contentment. I knew she was bringing the ruinous end of my contentment because I saw Marcus tilt his head.
He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He tilted his head that way any time he saw my tank-top tan line or I wore an above-the-knee skirt. I narrowed my eyes.
“Hi,” she said. “I’d like a cabbage and six tomatoes.” Just like that. She wanted a cabbage and six tomatoes.
Marcus arranged them in brown paper bags. He carefully creased the tops of the bags. “Are you from around here?”
Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she was.
“Just moved from St. Joseph. I’m Sylvia Young.” She smiled. She was dark haired with gorgeous high cheekbones and she seemed perfectly friendly. My contentment exhaled its dying breath.
“Going to Manson High in the fall?” He handed her the bags.
“Yep. My dad is going to teach science.”
I smiled. Manson High went through teachers with alarming regularity. “Four bucks.”
“Sorry?” Sylvia turned away from Marcus. “Oh. The vegetables.” She handed me ones and looked over the radishes. “This looks like great produce. Are you here every day?” Her eyes strayed to Marcus as she said it.
“Every afternoon,” he said. A ten-acre hobby farm produced a lot of vegetables.
“Okay, I’ll see you in a day or two, then.”
There are a lot of things I really like about this opening. I like that we don’t need to be told that Marcus is the narrator’s boyfriend or at least her crush. We can tell by her reaction to the way he responds to Sylvia. I also LOVE the way Sylvia completely ignores the narrator during her conversation with Marcus and is actually startled when the narrator names the price and asks for the money – like she forgot there was another person there. Perfect!
What doesn’t work as well for me is the segue from the pothead mother and “where we are now” to the jean shorts and Sylvia. Based on the first paragraph, I thought we were going to learn more about the narrator’s mother and how being a pothead in college led to life choices that make her daughter unhappy today. But then we shifted to jean shorts, and I’m not sure why the narrator was happy to be wearing them since they didn’t distract Marcus from the new girl at all.
Two smaller points are: I think you need to use Sylvia’s whole name the first time she’s mentioned rather than the second, and the phrase “the ruinous end of my contentment” is perhaps not right for this narrator’s voice. It sounds Victorian.
My suggestion for this page is either: A. Keep the opening about the pothead mother and explain more about how that life choice has affected the narrator and landed her at the produce stand – or (and I think I prefer this) B. Start with Sylvia Young approaching the produce stand and save the back story on the pothead mother until we actually meet her. What do readers think?