Fabulous First Lines (2013)

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 5, 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!

20 thoughts on “Fabulous First Lines (2013)

  1. valerie hobbs

    Wonderful enviable first lines!! SO hard to come up with and so compelling.
    I also liked this one: Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, that the people buying milk in their pajamas or picking their noses at stoplights could be only moments away from disaster. (The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider)

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      MT Anderson is a master of the first line. He also has a great one in The Game of Sunken Places: “The woods were silent, other than the screaming.” Talk about a line that sneaks up on you.

  2. reka simonsen

    Full disclaimer: I worked on this book, so I can’t claim to be impartial, but since it makes me laugh every time I read it, I had to mention this, the first line from Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde:
    “One should always strive,” Princess Imogene read in The Art of Being a Princess (third revised edition), “to be the sort of princess about whom it is said: ‘She was as good as she was beautiful.’ ”
    (and of course the next line begins with Imogene saying “Ugh.”)

  3. kevan

    nice assemblage! (shuffling through my stack of books knowing full well that I am always behind in what is being read…)

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Hahaha! I love that you remember that (for those who don’t recognize the line, I blogged about the kid who spoke that line in the bookstore, making fun of a genre of books for which she doesn’t care). That kid is hilarious! I want her to grow up and write books.

    2. Elizabeth Bluemle

      I’m so amused you remember this anecdote, Sarah! (For anyone who didn’t read that blog post, this quote is from a 12-year-old customer who was summing up a whole genre of books she doesn’t care to read.)

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      My smarty bookseller self says, “Read the book and find out!” But my blogger self will answer: it is adhesive used in beauty pageants to keep things like bikinis from slipping too low. Who knew?!

  4. Joanne Fritz

    It’s not new, but one of my all-time favorite first lines is from MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS by Lisa Yee: “I have been accused of being anal retentive, an overachiever and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things.”
    If you’re looking for 2013 novels, how about this line from RETURN TO ME by Justina Chen? “If you believe my so-called psychic of a grandmother, she predicted that I would almost die.” Certainly made me keep reading!

  5. Debra

    “Here is the boy, drowning.”
    MORE THAN THIS by Patrick Ness
    and then something on the lighter side?
    “Of all the items that can clog your plumbing, an overweight Arctic mammal is probably worst.”
    TIMMY FAILURE: NOW LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE by Stephan Pastis (Feb. 2014)

  6. Sara

    “There was a boy in her room.” Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
    “A secret is a strange thing.” The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater
    “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.” Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell

  7. Julie Larios

    Another great M.T. Anderson opening line, though not from 2013 – this one is from the first volume of the Octavian Nothing series: “I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees.” Once I read that, I was hooked.
    Great post, Elizabeth!

  8. Elizabeth Bluemle

    I just found another couple of great 2013 openers:
    “There were so many dead bodies stuffed into Gram’s freezer chest that it was kind of like wandering through a cryonics lab.” — from TURN LEFT AT THE COW by Lisa Bullard
    “Here’s a question. How would you like it if somebody in your house–your uncle Ernie, for instance–decided to turn it into a fish-canning factory?” — from THE BOY WHO SWAM WITH PIRANHAS by David Almond


Leave a Reply to valerie hobbs Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *