Fabulous First Lines (2013)

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 5th, 2013

The best opening lines to books may be one of several things: they may startle and surprise, they may amuse, they may set a scene, establish the strong voice of a narrator, or introduce an alien milieu. The one thing they have in common? Making a reader want more.

In 2011, I collected fantastic first lines for a ShelfTalker blog post. It was a really popular post — who doesn’t love to start a few dozen novels in five minutes? — and I’ve been toying with doing a reprise of it with this year’s crop of books. When I read the following first line, I knew I had to do it:

Applying butt glue to my sister’s backside is, without question, not the first way I’d choose to spend a weekend.Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg

That is a galvanizer of an opening line. Who wouldn’t read on, even if only to learn what nefarious modern-day product is “butt glue”?

So, dear readers, here are the best first lines I’ve found in the 2013 ARCs and finished books stacked around my home. Some are quiet and some start with a bang, but all of them offered readers the promise of something compelling ahead.


If I had known what the next six years of my life were going to be like, I would have eaten more. Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

No one noticed the soldier.The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann

I grew up in what some people would call a mobile home and what other, snobbier people might call a manufactured home, but I was always fine with calling it a trailer. That’s right, I said I grew up in a trailer. Fuck you.Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

I had arrived early for my own assassination.The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Every time a human walks out of a room, something with more feet walks in.The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck

When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die.The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (This also makes me think of one of my all-time favorite first lines, from Quest for a Maid by Frances Marie Hendry: “When I was nine years old, I hid in a corner and heard my sister kill a king.”)

Sophie had waited all her life to be kidnapped.The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

It’s the first day of summer, and I know three things: One, I am happy. Two, I am stoned. Three, if Lukas Malcywyck’s T-shirt was any redder I would lean over and bite it like an apple.Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

This story starts in a hospital, but don’t freak out.Elvis and the Underdogs by Jenny Lee

It was the bitterest, meanest, darkest, coldest winter in anyone’s memory, even in one of the forgotten neighborhoods of Chicago.Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

“Hey, dance boy!”Panic by Sharon M. Draper

If it were up to my dad, my entire life would be on video.Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

I used to practice leaving my body.Under the Light by Laura Whitcomb

Sweet Mother of Teen Vogue magazine, I’m model-marvelous in this new outfit!The Laura Line by Crystal Allen

From the rooftop of Information Headquarters, Bingo and J’miah stood on their back paws and watched Little Mama and Daddy-O trundle away; their stripy gray and black silhouettes grew smaller and smaller in the deepening dusk.The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

The front door was painted black, with a shiny brass knocker that made a satisfying noise when Alfred used it. Rat-tat-tat. —How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks

Sophronia intended to pull the dumbwaiter up from the kitchen to outside the front parlor on the ground floor, where Mrs. Barnaclegoose was taking tea.Etiquette & Espionage: Finishing School (Book the First) by Gail Carriger

Poppy set down one of the mermaid dolls close to the stretch of asphalt road that represented the Blackest Sea.Doll Bones by Holly Black

In the Urwald you grow up fast or not at all.Jinx by Sage Blackwood

It usually took the new kids two weeks to dump me, three weeks at the most.Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

This is how Kyle Keeley got grounded for a week.Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

It was the first day of second grade and Billy Miller was worried.The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

[The first page is a letter accepting a pirate applicant. The header reads:] The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, Servin’ the High Seas for 152 Years, Membership Division. The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates by Caroline Carlson 

I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Kouun is “good luck” in Japanese, and one year my family had none of it.The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina 

“Mama, why do we have to live in a cage?” Flora dug in the dirt at something hard and rusty.The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz

When you’ve drawn breath for nearly a hundred years, not much surprises you.The Last Present by Wendy Mass

If you were a high school quarterback, a Texas high school quarterback, this was the moment you imagined for yourself from the first time somebody said you had some arm on you.QB1 by Mike Lupica

November dusk slips into Moscow like a spy; you don’t know it’s there until it has stolen the day and vanished into the dark.Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy by Elizabeth Kiem


Have I missed any humdingers? Please feel free to add them in the comments section!

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