Young Adult Mainstream, Literary, Historical, Comedy, Romance – Editor Critiques

That first time. That first time I saw her. It was as though I’d been kept in the dark my entire life and only now was finally being shown the light. Being freed from a prison I didn’t even realise I was in. It was mystifying and magical. Captivating.

Just like that my soul was torn from my body and my fate locked. No longer was I a person. The poetry and love imagery should have no place in the story of my death. Despite my desire to have the two separate as different paths that is not to be. There are not two separate realities. One where I live and love and another where I die. For they are the same twisted story and even now I struggle to draw the line in the metaphorical sand as to where the love stops and the tragedy begins.

The writing is too melodramatic and falls back too often on clichés. I don’t think opening with this declaration of love is the right way to go. You’d do better to pull the reader into a specific scene which would allow the reader to connect with a character. Romance is difficult to write well and describing a romance and tragedy in vague terms feels too general and doesn’t create an emotional connection.

Nat knows this is a Moment. A life-defining, certifiably decisive moment. It’s unclear if it is a very good Moment, or a very bad one. He can’t tell yet. He, Nathaniel Greene-a loser, not in a depressing way but a very literal way-has made a friend. Rather unwittingly, too. Nat’s eyebrows scrunch: is it pathetic that the setting for this Moment is at a musical rehearsal? Another thing he can’t tell yet.

It takes work for a smile to stretch his mouth, a rusty expression on him, and Nat bumps Skyler’s shoulder. “She’s wearing green; you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Skyler’s turmeric freckles to brighten as he flashes a grin. “I thought you didn’t believe in the stoplight code?”

I get what you’re going for with the first line, but it comes across strangely since every moment is a moment so knowing that “this is a moment” doesn’t mean anything. What is the difference between a “literal” loser and a “depressing” loser? I’m not sure that making a friend at a musical rehearsal would be considered “pathetic” by modern teens. I don’t think there’s really stigma around theater kids. “A smile to stretch his mouth, a rusty expression on him” is odd wording that tripped me up. I don’t know what you mean by “Skyler’s turmeric freckles to brighten.”

It’s funny how I never truly appreciated the beauty of my beating heart until it was dangerously close to stopping. Maybe not like a ha-ha kind of funny, more like a holy-shit-I-think-my-heart-is-stopping kind of funny. Either way, as I laid there on the polished hardwood floor of my high school gymnasium, feeling the life slowly drain out of me, my heartbeat was all I could focus on. It was slow and amplified, shaking my eardrums like subwoofers.


It kind of reminded me of the sound of a T-Rex approaching from the distance, making ripples in puddles and causing Jeff Goldblum to feel “fairly alarmed here”.

I was starting to feel the same.

I detached my mask from the rest of my body armour and pulled it off my head so that breathing wouldn’t be such a struggle. My short blonde hair was matted down with sweat, and I could feel blood trickling out of my ears. I breathed in weakly and my lungs gladly took in the crisp night air that poured in through the brand-new hole in the ceiling, compliments of that turbocharged psychopath. The very same turbocharged psychopath who nearly put a brand-new hole in my torso.

As I laid there waiting to die, my mind rested on the type of questions I imagine most people ponder when they’re dying: Did I live to my truest potential? Did I love fearlessly? And why does the T-Rex create impact tremors with her footsteps in some scenes and in other scenes she pops out of nowhere without warning? Is she tip-toeing? That just makes no sense! Also, why the hell am I thinking about Jurassic Park while I’m literally bleeding out on the floor? That makes even less sense. Shouldn’t I be thinking about Jesus or something?

I like the voice and think there’s a lot going for you. I’m probably being too nitpicky here, but “funny” in this context means “strange” so “holy-shit-I-think-my-heart-is-stopping kind of funny” doesn’t make sense as an explanation (even though the line is funny). “Gladly” breaks the tone a bit and could be cut. I think you take the joke too far in the last paragraph. I’d cut “That just makes no sense!” and “That makes even less sense” because it feels like you’re explaining the joke to the reader. This kept my attention throughout (though I’m not including the full excerpt) and the voice is fun.

When Marcus Stevens was 17 years old, his childhood hero Lance Armstrong had a come-to-Jesus-moment. Although brought on by a man with a badge and a gun, the American cycling superhero confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his illustrious, inspiring career. As the hard truth escaped Lance’s tightly-pressed lips and expressionless face, Marcus’s heart sank into his stomach —a feeling of disappointment he had only felt once before: when, as a young boy, he found out his father had left and wasn’t coming back.

The only thing on his mind at this moment, though, was the searing pain in his lungs and the dull ache of lactic acid invading his quadriceps. With more than a mile to go in his trek up his usual mountain training ride, Marcus was feeling the bonk coming. Usually a Snickers bar or one of those nasty energy goos would get him over the top of the climb and through the descent back to his mom’s house, nestled in the heart of the valley floor below.

The style of the text feels like an essay rather than a novel in the first paragraph, which is a little awkward. I think you’re over-describing Lance’s confession (which the reader will already know about) and it draws out the opening. It’s also not clear if this is meant to be serious or humorous in tone. I’m not sure this opening is working unless you can better tie Lance’s confession into the character’s personality or current experiences.

Coos erupt. A pfft from the air pistol reverbs in the sniper’s ear. The flight of birds smears the dawn, a darker grey. The sun starts to peak over the treetops as if to show there had been no birds, no movement, no sound. Yet one piece of evidence remains. By the dirty lake runs a drab, concrete path peppered with bread. Among the crumbs is one dead pigeon.

Shrimpy scans the horizon through the slit in his balaclava. Nobody nearby. No far-off silhouette.
A lone pigeon stands on a mound, wide-eyed. The bird stares back. Silent. Shocked? Disgusted? Wings snap, crack like a bullwhip, skyward. The breeze blows harder at Shrimpy, stood up on the quad bike’s footrest. He hops to the grass and strolls toward the dead pigeon. The pistol dangles by his side, tapping every other step like the weird long finger of an Aye-Aye drumming for its prey.

Muted birdsong, a distant hiss of motorway traffic, the slap of a wind change.

The first paragraph doesn’t flow as smoothly as I would like. The sentence construction of the second through fourth sentence feels a little redundant and gives a bit of a clunky rhythm. The writing is much smoother after the first paragraph. I had to look up “Aye-Aye” because I’ve never heard of it before. Generally, similes that are harder to understand than the initial description aren’t a great idea, but if the character knowing about Aye-Ayes is important or reveals character then it’s okay.

It’s not really clear if we’re in Shrimpy’s POV or if this is omniscient. It seems omniscient, but then “Silent. Shocked? Disgusted?” may or may not be coming from Shrimpy. I don’t know what “slap of a wind change” means. I think at times you’re trying too hard to be literary and it’s hurting clarity and flow, but there are some nice elements to your voice.

Thirteen minutes after school ended I pulled up across the street from Isaac’s house, as requested. Thinking he needed to ask, was my second clue something was wrong. The first was him concentrating during our lab. Isaac Mason thinking hard about chemistry was like Michelangelo struggling to paint a fence.

I used the spare key he’d given me four years ago when we were freshman so he wouldn’t have to stop working to let me in. As soon as I pushed the door open, he called up from his lab.

“Is that you, Ana?”


“Did you lock the—?”

“I’m locking it now.”


I headed to the basement. Isaac’s adoptive parents, who wouldn’t be home for an hour, encouraged his experiments, so they’d converted the room for his use. It was filled with bookshelves lined with his numerous creations, many of which I couldn’t identify, but some were robots that could do various tasks like open jars and pick things up off the floor. One of them could probably defuse bombs if Isaac wanted it to.

The second line isn’t as clear as I would like it to be and doesn’t flow smoothly. How does she know that Mason is “working” and would have to stop to let her in? I’m not sure the dialogue is adding anything or showing characterization so it could probably be cut. What was “the room” before it became a lab? “Various tasks” is too vague and I would cut the phrase to strengthen the writing. I’d want something interesting about the protagonist to come up very quickly or else this might not be the best place to start the novel as it puts more focus on Mason than the protagonist.

Dad said, if we were all quiet enough, The Taxman wouldn’t know we were home, since the old eggplant minivan wasn’t out there rotting like a log anymore (sold for its decrepit parts to some Frankenstein-of-a buyer). Uneasily strumming his chapped, shedding thumbs, he half-joked that we might as well practice living with the surreptitiousness of squatters.
But Mom shuffled those squashed slippers across the kitchen’s jaundiced linoleum– wading through rheumatic plastic animals; peeling a last-night’s noodle from the foot that had been walking funny– to issue our monthly apology to The Taxman. A calendrical event; like the shape-shifting moon pulling blood from a belly.

“The Taxman” gives off a childlike vibe that made me assume we were in the POV of a child, but as the excerpt continues, it’s clear the narrator’s vocabulary is far beyond a child’s. “Rotting like a log” doesn’t seem right when referring to a van (which would rust/erode rather than “rot”). What are “rheumatic plastic animals”? Toys or decorations or something else? “From the foot that had been walking funny” reads awkwardly to me. “Like the shape-shifting moon pulling blood from a belly” seems unnecessary because it doesn’t enhance understanding nor does it seem to suit the tone of the scene.

The latest draft of my suicide note is thus far unimpressive.

“Attention pedestrians,

Please note that, unless you’re walking on a footpath and my bike and I
proceed to ram you into the ground, it is absolutely none of your
goddamn business where I cycle.
It is with this in mind that I now choose to end my life…”

It has potential, I think, although a tad formal. I’m not quite sure what the
etiquette is for dramatic farewells delivered via post-it note. I know, at least, that
I should work my mam and sisters into the note at some point, but with this
millionth attempt, I’m growing weary.

I love the first line, but the suicide note itself and the paragraph after are just okay to me. I don’t feel like I really “get” this character. This is his/her “millionth attempt” but what’s written obviously isn’t a serious attempt at a suicide note. Why would she/he address it to pedestrians (except for the fact that it makes a good joke)? Is the narrator being serious or sarcastic when he/she says it’s “a tad formal”? I love the idea, but the voice isn’t there yet.

When things are bad you don’t talk about them. That’s how I was brought up–in Britain–in a big house broken down by secrets. But it was a fire that destroyed it.
Oh no not again. I pulled the covers up and burrowed down. I’d heard it before–as well as the sound a man makes in his death groans–the things my dad relives in his sleep that I keep on the other side of my door in case he mistakes for one of his enemies. But I couldn’t ignore the sound of the drawing room roof collapsing as if a jet plane had come in through the ceiling painting–the house was on fire and the hallway was so hot the faces in the portrait paintings were melting and mine felt that way too. But there wasn’t time to think about all that was lost because in the split second between terror and the instinct to survive–I knew the men in masks were not there to save me.

Mainly I recommend working on flow. There is an awkwardness to the writing that makes it clunky to read. “But it was a fire that destroyed it” is awkward because the reader expects this sentence to relate to the idea of not talking about things rather than the house. “Oh no not again” is awkward because it switches to present tense and it also seems unnecessary.

I don’t understand how he knows the sound of death groans but then seems to attribute knowing about this to his father’s nightmares. Is his father making death groans in his sleep? The character still seems to be in the bedroom when the hallway portraits are melting, so how does he know this is happening?

This is exactly why crazed maniacs never run out of people to hack to death, Aaliyah thinks to herself as she stands alone and quiet by the transport bench. The unseasonably chilly breezes teasing at the hem of her kilt, threatening to show a little more than would be acceptable. She doesn’t have enough hands to hold onto her crutches and fool with her wayward garment, so she chooses the lessor of two evils and keeps her balance.

It’s dark still. Uncomfortably so given the eerie, unfamiliar surroundings. Why aren’t there others here?

More than anything, Aaliyah wishes this part was over and she was already settled into whatever would ultimately become her routine. Second to that, she wishes she could just sit down but the full length cast on her left leg is not about to allow that with any ease.

“And quiet” seems unnecessary since there’s no reason to think she’s making noise while she’s alone. The description of the wind threatening to expose her feels a little odd, mostly because there doesn’t seem to be any relevance to this and she’s alone so there’s no one around to witness her being exposed anyway. “Settled into whatever would ultimately become her routine” feels oddly generic.

My name is Brooke Allis, and up until a few months ago, I hated poor, working class, and middle-class people. If you think that makes me a bitch, you’d be right. Why, you might ask, did I hate these people?
It all started in middle school when I first went to my then new friend Madison Quade’s apartment. Her parents, who were both business people, were sitting in the living room talking.
“Don’t you just hate how entitled our workers are?” Mr. Quade asked his wife. “We pay their salaries, we pay for their welfare, they’d be starving in the streets if it wasn’t for us, but they still accuse us of mistreating them. Do they expect us to buy them a yacht?”
Starting a novel with “My name is” is considered a trope. “Why, you might ask,” is also a bit of a cliché though probably hasn’t reached full cliché status yet. I would avoid this type of opening.

I’m not sure readers will really care why she used to hate the poor and middle class. It’s not really that unique or interesting of an opinion and most readers know the arguments some people use to justify hating poor people. I don’t think there’s really a hook here unless you can pull out a better sense of why this matters to her specifically or how it will lead to a compelling conflict.

She was five years old the first time Tildy heard a stranger ask her grandma if the police had ever found her mother. That was before she had started school in the small factory town of Lebanon, Missouri.

It had never occurred to Matilda that the police, or anyone for that matter, was looking for her mother. Her mother, Annette’s senior picture hung on the wall between a set of wood grained plastic sconces. There were other pictures of her mother too, but the older she got, the more of them that disappeared into a drawer or album.

The first sentence is just a little bit too complex to be easily understood. Why does it matter that this occurred before she started school? It doesn’t seem like that bit of information is worthy of being in the first paragraph.

Ending a sentence and then starting the next sentence with the same phrase (…her mother. Her mother…) is awkward to read. It’s not clear what you want to convey by having the sconces be plastic. Does this mean they’re poor? That they don’t respect her mother enough to buy metal sconces? “But the older she got” reads as if it could refer to her mother.

Grief is very much like malaria. The same bitterness on my tongue. The same cramping in my stomach. I have a loss of appetite and a never ending nausea. I am still in a state of disbelief. Every time anyone mentions the children’s names, I fight the urge to get up and run out of the courtroom. That Chebachi and I should end up here, our great American Dream reduced to ashes. And all over Allmanville, on TV and on the radio, our case dissected and discussed by people who have never met us.

From one perspective, we’re criminalizing poverty. These parents clearly acted out of economic necessity. In our post-recession economy, good jobs are hard to come by and child care is expensive. For low-wage earners, child care costs can easily eclipse earning potential.

Running out of the courtroom was a bit jarring because it wasn’t clear the narrator was in a courtroom. I’m assuming that perhaps this character is a lawyer. I don’t understand what the narrator is doing or why/how he/she is criminalizing poverty or what that has to do with grief or the narrator’s American dream.

I think you have some interesting ideas that need to be more clearly connected to each other.

Ellen ground the toe of her boot in the dust. She glanced from the terrified, elderly serf to the seething knight. He was Norman—of course—a few years older than she, his surcoat red as blood. Chainmail covered him completely, except for his face. His sword was drawn. The serf threw saggy-fleshed arms around his head. The knight’s arm went back, the polished blade in his hand gleaming.

He’s going to chop off the old man’s head! Ellen dashed forward, thrusting desperately with her walking stick, the sword whistling through the air as the young knight swung.

Ellen is a great name choice! 😉

The descriptions could be stronger/clearer. “Saggy-fleshed arms” isn’t clear (Do you mean he has extra skin on his arms? How does that information affect the scene?) and throwing his arms “around his head” isn’t very clear either.

Why does Ellen care what these two people are up to? Why should the reader care?

“If you keep just passing you will not graduate,” Professor Mere’s bluntantly stated. “I suggest you find yourself a tutor,” he clarified at Erika’s confused look.

Erika just sighed in irritation as she grabbed her paper off his desk. Mere’s classes were hard. He always expected his students to be the next level up. Erika couldn’t believe after all this time, he just now waved her over to give her the unpleasant news.

The first line of dialogue doesn’t sound natural. “Mere’s” should be “Mere” in the first sentence. “Bluntantly” should be “bluntly.” “The next level up” reads awkwardly.

I recommend giving Erika a stronger voice in the narration or finding a way to make her personality clearer.