While an exceptional first line is a wonderful thing, any superior delight it offers is actually lagniappe, since readers generally are willing to wade through a page or two—and usually at least a chapter—before abandoning a book as a lost cause. First lines are important, but they don’t carry the pressure of, say, the last line, which shoulders the entire narrative on its skinny self. All an opening line in a novel really needs to accomplish is to make you want to read on.
That said, there’s a particular pleasure in a terrific first line. It sets the tone for the book, can establish a strong voice or setting, assist in building the fictional world, startle readers into unfamiliarity, make them laugh or gasp. The first line gives you a sense of the storyteller in whom you are placing your time and trust to lead you on a remarkable journey.
Twice before in ShelfTalker, I have collected fabulous first lines (2013, 2011) that caught my attention from the year’s new middle grade and young adult releases. Below are some of the standouts I’ve come across so far from the 2014 crop of ARCs.
This is just the first round; plenty of time for more of the best to surface! In December, we’ll vote for the absolute best first line of the year.
Enjoy, and please add your own 2014 discoveries in the comments section.
I’m the happiest guy alive, because Katrina M. Zabinski is my girlfriend. I’m also the most miserable guy who ever lived, because the pressure of having a girlfriend like Tina is crushing. —Family Ties by Gary Paulsen (Random House / Wendy Lamb)
My rules for the Black Market are simple. Don’t make eye contact—especially with men. Their faces are sharp, but their eyes are sharper, and you never want to draw that blade. —Sekret by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook)
Maximillian Reisman can stand on his head for thirty minutes if he wants to. —The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty (Scholastic / Arthur A. Levine)
There’s something I need to tell you.
Don’t be mad.
Please. Please don’t be mad. I hate it when you’re mad at me.
—We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt (Random House / Wendy Lamb)
No body meant no casket, so they used her headshot instead. This was a Hollywood funeral, after all. —A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck (Simon & Schuster / Atheneum)
When I first heard Gayle, I couldn’t tell if she was a bird or a girl. —Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin (Penguin / Razorbill)
Once upon a time there were two brothers, as alike to one another as you are to your own reflection. —The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)
In my life, I’d had my share of fights, sometimes with fists, sometimes with knives, occasionally with a sword. I’d faced opponents twice my size, twice as mean, and, as a general rule, uglier than I ever hoped to be. —The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic Press)
It looked like an ordinary package. —The Secret Box by Whitaker Ringwald (HarperCollins / Katherine Tegen)
I am Private First Class Daniel Christopher Wright, I am seventeen years old, and I fired the shot that ended the United States of America. —Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy (Scholastic / Arthur A. Levine)
I’d never seen a mock man until the Professor showed me one. —Threatened by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic Press)
As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School cafeteria — his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his ear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket — he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking. —The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (Scholastic / Arthur A. Levine)
What first lines have you loved this year?