This is the second of a projected trio of posts about irresistible first lines in 2017 MG and YA books. The first post, Fabulous First Lines of 2017 (Round 1), divided them into categories, and while I’m tempted to do that here, there’s also something appealing about letting the flow and juxtapositions of this collection of openers speak for themselves.
What qualities of first lines hook readers? Happily, there is no formula. Some lines stand out because they take us by surprise, or enchant us with brilliant images, or appeal to our moods for suspense, dread, gentleness, adventure, humor, mystery, kindredness, delight, even moods for the familiar. What I would say is that all good opening lines project a certain confidence—bold or quiet. They announce or unfold the beginning of a story in such a way that the reader thinks, “Ah, I can relax; I’m in the hands of a true storyteller.”
I’ve chosen some of these because they made me want to get to know the narrator or main character, others because I wanted to be taken on a journey by a clever or quirky author’s mind, or because they made me laugh, or see vividly, or because my curiosity was captivated. And so on—all of the reasons we all choose books and keep reading.
The one downside of collecting the first lines is the knowledge that I can’t catch up with the reading.
In 1848, London smelled awful. I’m not sure why this surprised anybody. If I had been around then and somebody had said, “Hyacinth, if every toilet in town flows directly into the river Thames, will the city smell like a rose garden in a chocolate factory?” I’m pretty sure I would have said, “Um, no.”
—Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath by Jacob Sager Weinstein (Random House)
Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.
—Marlena by Julie Buntin (Henry Holt)
“Maddie, can you please hold still! For one more murfnurt.”
—14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop (Knopf)
A dragon was dead.
A giant black and purple fire-breathing dragon from the very pits of hell itself was dead somewhere outside the castle. Thorns were falling from the battlements like rain, making curiously pleasant wooden sounds on the grounds of the bailey.
—Once Upon a Dream: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell (Disney Press)
On the day my grandmother got arrested, I found out I was pregnant.
—Once in a Blue Moon Lodge by Lorna Landvik (University of Minnesota Press)
The smell of home for him, more than anything else, was the smell of a girl he didn’t know.
—The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares (Delacorte)
Monday morning was the worst possible time to have an existential crisis, I decided on a Monday morning, while having an existential crisis.
—Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (Amulet)
I know two things for a fact.
My parents are good people.
And ever since I can remember; they’ve been angry about almost everything.
—The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah
It’s no fun shivering when you’re wearing handcuffs.
It doesn’t help to be seasick, either.
—Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart (Scholastic Press)
Prologue: I have grown in strength inside her. Filled her cells with mine until we must split apart. It’s not my choice—that’s how it’s always been for us.
—More of Me by Kathryn Evans (Amulet)
When I was fourteen, my mother told me there was no such thing as unconditional love.
“I could stop loving you at any time,” my mother said.
—What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold (Carolrhoda Lab)
I’m on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.
—The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray)
If I seem a little weird or high strung or just plain off, don’t worry. I’m not nuts.
—Antisocial by Jillian Blake (Delacorte)
I am at the top of a hill, and although I know I have done something terrible I have no idea what it is.
—The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (Philomel)
On the morning we are to leave for our Grand Tour of the Continent, I wake in bed beside Percy. For a disorienting moment, it’s unclear whether we’ve slept together or simply slept together.
—The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Katherine Tegen Books)
“Check out the pig!”
—That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim (HarperTeen)
I swore I wouldn’t come back here this summer, not to Mrs. Wardwell’s foghorn voice and blisters the size of nickels.
—Grit by Gillian French (HarperTeen)
In three weeks, Noemi Vidal will die—here, in this very place.
Today is just practice.
—Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray (Little, Brown)
My sister is in the memory hole.
She has been disappeared, vanished, eliminated, eradicated.
—Bang by Barry Lyga (Little, Brown)
There was a time, not so long ago, when you couldn’t have a great party in our town without Crazy Chicken.
—We Are Party People by Leslie Margolis (FSG)
This is the story of Winifred, Wilfred, and Zebediah; Crying Alice; and Flying Bob. It is in part the story of Thomasina and Old Tom. It is only in small part my story, but I get to do the telling.
—The Night Garden by Polly Horvath (FSG)
Times like now, as I hide behind a stack of gym mats holding Cayden’s head down so he won’t get clawed, I wish Pearl was here.
—Oddity by Sarah Cannon (Feiwel and Friends)
What’s surprised me most about seeing my sister dead is the lingering smirk on her face.
—I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (Knopf)
Eight mornings before running away, I found myself at McDonald’s, wondering about the direction of my life.
—Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi (Viking)
The transaction took less than a minute. The red-haired girl slid the completed worksheet across the table just as the boy in the Blackhawks shirt walked by. She didn’t look up. And the boy didn’t even pause as he slid the worksheet into his notebook, dropping a wrinkled five-dollar bill onto the table in its place.
The girl palmed the five without taking her eyes off of her book.
Neither one of them noticed the two men watching from the corner of the library. They didn’t notice as the stocky man gave a subtle nod. They didn’t notice the taller man snap a photo.
—The Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton (Disney-Hyperion)
The morning after I dropped out of high school, I woke up before dawn in my father’s empty house thinking about the slow death of the universe.
—Things I’m Seeing Without You by Peter Bognanni (Dial)
Corinne La Mer dove through the waves. Streaks of light illuminated the golden sand beneath her and shone on a large pink shell half-buried on the seafloor, just out of reach.
—Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin)
In Which Morven’s Denholm Is Turned into a Frog
The scream was very loud and went on for a very long time.
Princess Anya, who was reading in the castle library, ignored it at first but eventually lifted her head from her book to listen.
—Frogkisser by Garth Nix (Scholastic Press)
Snow fell softly outside the Heartwood Hotel. It was sleepy snow, the kind that took its time to reach the ground. Mona the mouse watched through a small window in the ballroom, leaning against the handle of her dandelion broom. It was so quiet she could almost hear the flakes touch down.
—Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift by Kallie George, illus. by Stephanie Graegin (Disney-Hyperion)
Access Level: Restricted [Platinum Black]
Records of December 31, 95 AD, are not available to the general public.
Please refer to Archive 12-A11B for original datastream.
Recorder Empra McCarthy sat in the bleachers of the Amphitheatrum Flavium, her pregnant belly round as a globe under her indigo stola.
—Invictus by Ryan Graudin (Little, Brown)
Day 1, 8:47 A.M.
Aboard Genesis 11
“You all know why you’re here.”
There are ten of us at the table. We all nod like we even have a clue.
—Nyxia by Scott Reintgen (Crown)
A Grave is to Think
You should know that I died a long time ago, and that I was young when I died. But that doesn’t matter much to me anymore. I’ve been in the Catskills for longer than Rip Van Winkle. I’ve seen a town flooded for a reservoir. I’ve watched beetles chew leaves all summer until the mountain’s scalp showed.
—The Grave Keepers by Elizabeth Byrne (HarperTeen)
So I didn’t handle the mugging as well as I could have.
—The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee (Amulet)
A Word from the Malefactor
Light a candle and step close to the looking glass. Time is short, and we cannot delay.
In another time, in another world, you would not have been worth the slightest flicker of my gaze. However, even I cannot break the terms of our contract.
—The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding: A Fiendish Arrangement by Alexandra Bracken (Disney-Hyperion)
There’s this dream
I’ve been having
about my mother
the holy night
out of me,
and each time I wake
I’m afraid to open
the world that awaits, the
that used to make sense,
but now seems
disjointed–islands of possibility
that float by–like
a thousand puzzle pieces
that just don’t fit
So I think
and grab hold
of the only other thing
—Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (Blink)
Stay tuned for Round 3 in December. And feel free to send me (or post in the comments) your favorite first lines not already mentioned in the first two rounds. Thanks.