Young Adult Mystery, Thriller, Horror – Editor Critiques

I imagine proper young ladies seldom found themselves in such a questionable state–crawling in the shadows of a dark, deserted emporium like some marauder. But I, being a Holmes, welcomed these singular predicaments.

Crouching under a counter, I swiped my black bangs aside and held up the anonymous telegram wired to Scotland Yard, the cryptic words lit by a sliver of moonlight.


Given the Yard’s usual state of incompetence, it hardly came as a surprise those bunglers had failed to decipher so simple a message, and with Uncle Sherlock attending to a case at the Royal Louvre Museum, the Yard turned to me as a last resort.

It wasn’t difficult to see the message formed a substitution cipher of reversed alphabets: A’s replaced Z’s, B’s replaced Y’s, C’s with X’s, and so forth. The decoded message bluntly stated:


The first sentence switches from present tense (“imagine”) to past tense (“found”). If “I imagine” is in present tense, then it seems “I welcome” should be in present tense too, but it’s in past tense. “Singular” seems unnecessary to me. The idea of Scotland Yard turning to a child as a last resort stretches my suspension of disbelief, but this would probably be more believable (and appealing) to MG readers rather than YA (there’s little about this that feels YA).

I like the idea of a Holmes style story, but if the setting and personality are the same and it’s really only the age and gender that has been changed, I’m not sure it’s different enough to be marketable. I think that’s going to be your biggest challenge: you need to prove why this story is necessary when the original Holmes stories could be read instead.

The doorbells chimed as the door opened.

“We’re closed,” I said without looking up.

I could kick myself for forgetting to turn around the CLOSED sign. Heavy heels against the wooden floor indicated that the person hadn’t spun around and left. I could get rich betting that someone would stumble into the store two minutes before closing, ogling some antique knick-knack they’d never buy.

“Hey,” I said at the bouncing head that made its way down aisle one. “I said we’re closed.”

An old bookshelf displaying varied sizes picture frames blocked my view, yet I knew who it was. She’d been in the store twice this week and before that, once every week for the past month. Each time she went into that same aisle, looked around for five to ten minutes and by the time I thought to ask her if she needed any help she just poofed! Disappeared.

I would change “doorbells” to “bell over the door” which will let the reader know immediately that this is a shop and not a house. “Heavy heels against the wooden floor indicated” is awkward and unnatural. The last sentence of the third paragraph is a bit difficult to understand and I had to read it twice. What is this character doing instead of looking up? “Varied sizes picture frames” needs to be rephrased. “Poofed!” reads awkwardly and should be “Poof!” It’s not clear what vibe/tone this scene is meant to have which makes it hard to interpret. I’m not sure if I’m meant to be scared, tense, annoyed, etc.

Mr. Jackal was ready to die, and his entire class knew it. The balding professor would reference death and the many ways to obtain it during every lecture for three months. He wove it into repartee of an enriched future he envisioned for his children and a happier one for his wife. He’d poetize the Void, the enlightening nothingness he believed accompanies eternal peace. He’d cough blood into his recycled white rag and smile as large as the stain. And so, when Mr. Jackal slit his throat at his desk – when blood tickled screaming students and his dilating eyes retreated into that preached paradise – Carly was satisfied. Their hunch was right.

Carly soon retreated herself, closing out the chaos of police sirens, reporters, and an ambulance as she collapsed into her car and slammed the door shut. She listened to the engine purr for a while, it’s warm lullaby entrapping her in reclined black Nabba leather for as long as procrastination would allow. She loved not driving it. She loved the motor’s calm hum when she got to listen to it, and ignoring it as time flew by. And as a crowd of hundreds thirty feet away mourned a man they barely knew with cries and comfort, the smiling high school senior laid with her eyes closed all by her . . .

I like the opening hook. It’s a cool idea and I think it could work, but the writing needs to be smoothed out and tightened up. “The many ways to obtain it” seems awkwardly worded. Since this is YA, I’d avoid stuffy sounding language like “repartee of an enriched future” and opt for a voice that sounds more youthful. I think “when blood tickled screaming students and his dilating eyes retreated into that preached paradise” takes things a bit too far and actually reduces shock value. If Carly is satisfied, then a more matter-of-fact tone (“when Mr. Jackal slit his throat at his desk, Carly was satisfied”) would be stronger. I assumed they were college students because high school teachers are normally not professors.

In the second paragraph, I’d pull the reader closer to Carly right away to orient the reader to the current moment. For example, something like, “Carly sat behind the wheel of her car, the engine purring” would immediately let the reader know that you’re not summarizing events but settling into a scene.

The waitresses are giving us funny looks. I can’t blame them. Twenty-odd teenagers dressed as anime characters crammed around a table—yeah, we’re freaks. Go ahead and snap some photos, post them to Instagram. “Hey, look at these weirdos who came into my work today! Can you believe these losers?”

I wish we’d gone home when the convention let out, but my dad and the other adults wanted to grab coffee before getting on the Metro, so here we are. The adults are all over at another table, chatting. They said they didn’t want to get in our way, but I expect they’re tired of dealing with a bunch of high-strung kids.

I know I am.

I’d rather be at a table by myself, reading some of the manga I’d picked up at the con, but my dad insisted I sit with the group. It’ll be good for me, he said. It’ll help me make friends. We can talk about our shared interests.

I like the idea, but the voice isn’t quite working for me. Referring to the parents as “adults” seems odd to me. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it doesn’t seem like a teenager thing to say. I think “funny looks” doesn’t imply they’re laughing at them or interested in bullying them on Instagram, but more implies confusion or discomfort so I think there’s a bit of a mixed message about their reaction. I think you could put more focus on the stakes, motive, or problem (Does it bother the character that the waitresses are laughing at them?).

“Your new phone is installed Mrs. Wellworth,” the technician’s voice was clear and pleasant. Jane’s eyes fluttered open. She was expecting pain but there was none. She had a moment of dizziness as she looked through her new eyes and observed the world through a lens that now carried options in the peripherals. They drew her gaze like an eyelash stuck to the corner of her eyes.
“Now it’s normal that your body may take some time to adjust. You may feel an itching or tingling sensation from time to time.” the tech explained. “As stated in your training program, we recommend no driving or operating heavy equipment for at least two weeks. You may also want to refrain from high sensory input such as extreme sports or crowded areas for a short period. If you hear any persistent ringing in your ears, come back in to see us. Do you have someone to drive you home?”
“My husband is coming but I’m sure he is not here yet.” Jane went to look at her watch and realized it was unnecessary. The time was right there in the bottom left of her vision. “We didn’t think it would be so fast.”

This doesn’t seem YA. “Clear and pleasant” seems unnecessary because the reader has no sense of the vibe of the scene so this is neither in line with nor against the tone of the scene (in other words, it seems irrelevant). “Eyes fluttered open” leans towards feeling like cliché wording. The simile at the end of the first paragraph isn’t needed. I like the idea, but the dialogue and writing both feel a bit generic and would benefit from more uniqueness/voice.

Gabi is done with a day’s work and is walking the wet streets alone in the dark. She can’t wait to get to the house. Just like every other day, she is completely worn out by the end of this one. But she’s always made it a point that there were still some things to look forward to at the end of the day.

She feels the buzz of her mobile phone in her pocket and takes it out to find a text message from a friend.

‘I’m at ur place. My roommate was being a shit so thank god i found ur spare key. See ya .xx’

She smirks at the message and continues to stride to her already nearby house. It would be seen as risky, walking the streets alone at night, but she doesn’t seem to care.

“The house” is awkward. Why not “her house” or “home”? “By the end of this one” isn’t needed and makes the sentence clunky. The last sentence of the first paragraph is unclear. Do you mean that she makes it a point to tell herself that there are small things to look forward to or that she makes sure to give herself small things to look forward to?

“She doesn’t seem to care” creates distance that wasn’t there in the first paragraph. Make sure to keep your narrative distance consistent. Third-person POV in the present tense is very difficult. While I can’t say for certain what your situation is, most writers do better with past tense. That said, the immediacy is nice so if you feel strongly about making it work, go for it, but be careful about unnatural wording.

The world stopped but the pain did not. Luke wiped the tears that rolled down. Mike’s lifeless body was laying right there. Maybe it was now a corpse.
Maybe he should run to his aid, however Luke’s legs were paralyzed. There was also the fear of confronting reality. The boy was desperate and angry at himself for just standing there. Yet, he couldn’t force himself to move.
And in the next instant, he was thankful for this. Someone had killed Mike. The knife was there stuck in his chest. Even at distance, Luke could see it. He could also see the face of that who once was his lover. Was. That meant his own life could now be in danger.

The short sentences give the first paragraph an awkwardly choppy feel. Did the world literally stop? It’s unclear. “That rolled down” is awkward. “Lifeless” means “dead or apparently dead.” Most readers will assume that he’s dead, so speculating that he may be a corpse feels redundant.

I thought for a moment Luke’s legs were literally paralyzed. Why does it take until the third paragraph for Luke to see the knife in Mike’s chest? I feel a bit too disoriented to be curious about what’s happening.

I wake up thinking about my brother’s death. To avoid this, I think of what I dreamt this night. Dreams had always afflicted me. In them I walk in paths of carnage, stepping in pieces of unknown corpses, enjoying the texture of blood against my skin. I know it’s weird.

What is unknown is where my mind wandered to this night. It had something to do with my brother’s corpse. I bit it. Even to me that was creepy. I search for my cellphone around the bed to look the clock. It’s not on the writing desk illuminated by the light that crosses my thin curtains either. The distraction brings Victor’s image to my mind, mocking my paleness. Tears trickle down my face, uncontrollable. I can’t allow them because it’s already too difficult for my parents without me looking beat down.

The narrator wants to avoid thinking about his brother’s death so he thinks about a dream in which his brother is a corpse. This doesn’t add up.

Opening with a dream is a trope and I highly recommend avoiding it. Crying early in a novel is also not recommended because it tends to feel melodramatic because the reader isn’t connected to the character.

Alexander Finnegan had already lost half a million dollars. He wished he could have lost more—it was easier to hide victories amongst huge losses. On the other hand, it was more difficult to make a profit. Small wins along the way helped and were easier to control at a card table than a slot machine. Even the house had bad hands.

Alex had bought into a game of baccarat chemin de fer, a European variant of baccarat that he had been surprised to find at a Las Vegas casino. The role of dealer was passed around the table to the highest bidder, and the next was given the other hand. The table dwindled as the night went on, leaving to play other games or because they didn’t want to lose any more. All that was left was Alex, the croupier, and a man named Richard Knight, whom the bank had now fallen to.

I’m not getting a YA vibe from the writing style nor from what’s going on. If Alex is a teen gambling illegally, that’s going to be a strong opening hook that should be included within the first few sentences.

I found the opening paragraph confusing and had to read it twice. Perhaps that’s because I don’t have gambling experience, but YA readers won’t have gambling experience either. I recommend working on a clearer explanation.