Great Beginnings

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 8, 2012

Last year, I did a blog post on terrific first lines in books, plundering ARCs to uncover some of the best of the 2011 January-June season. That was such a fun exercise, I couldn’t resist doing it again with this year’s crop.
A few things I noticed as I combed the stacks:
1) Some of my favorite books this spring turned out to have surprisingly quiet or deceptively ordinary, non-blockbuster openings, so they aren’t represented here. I suppose that leads us to the maxim that not only should one not judge a book by its cover, but by its first line(s), as well. (That said, a good first line is an endless delight.)
2) Prologues are in. There are loads of prologues, especially (but not only) in fantasy novels. Prologues are not uncommon, but there seem to be more of them this year.
3) Epigraphs are extra in. So many authors are starting their books with tasty quotes from their writerly forbears, and while there can be too much of a good thing, this is a literary device that usually adds richness and resonance to a story. I’m a sucker for a good epigraph.
4) Most of my ARCs at home (where I blog) are from a few major houses. I’m certain there are fantastic first lines in books I don’t have on hand, and I’ll be inviting you to share your favorites at the end of this post.
Without further ado, here are some of the gems – opening lines that grabbed my attention, for one reason or another –  from this season’s middle grade and YA releases:
January releases
Pete Hautman, What Boys Really Want (Scholastic):

Miz Fitz, My boyfriend is always saying stupid stuff. How can I fix him? —Angie

Miz Fitz sez: Get a dog. Fixing a dog is easier.

Marissa Meyer, Cinder (Feiwel and Friends):

The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.

February releases (February seems to be witch month this year, judging by these first lines)

Alex Flinn, Bewitching (HarperTeen):

If you read fairy tales, and who doesn’t, you might believe there are witches all over the place—witches baking children into gingerbread, making princesses sleep hundreds of years, even turning normal teenage boys into hideous beasts to teach them a lesson. But, actually, there are only a few of us.

Jessica Spotswood, Born Wicked (Putnam):

Our mother was a witch, too, but she hid it better.

Kathryn Littlewood, Bliss (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books):

It was the summer Rosemary Bliss turned ten that she saw her mother fold a lightning bolt into a bowl of batter and learned – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that her parents made magic in the Bliss bakery.

March releases
Carl Hiaasen, Chomp (Knopf):

Mickey Cray had been out of work ever since a dead iguana fell from a palm tree and hit him on the head.

Melissa Marr, Faery Tales & Nightmares (Harper):

The green glow of eyes and sulfurous breath shimmer in the fog as the Nightmares come into range.

Carley Moore, The Stalker Chronicles (FSG):

It’s not like I wanted to be a stalker.

April releases
Saundra Mitchell, The Springsweet (Harcourt):

That I went a little mad, I could not deny.

May releases
Cornelia Funke, trans. by Oliver Latsch, Ghost Knight (Little, Brown):

I was eleven when my mother sent me to boarding school in Salisbury. Yes, granted, she did have tears in her eyes as she brought me to the station. But she still put me on that train.

Alethea Kontis, Enchanted (Harcourt):

My name is Sunday Woodcutter, and I am doomed to a happy life.

Jo Knowles, See You at Harry’s (Candlewick):

The very best day of my life, I threw up four times and had a fever of 103 degrees.

Anna Waggener, Grim (Scholastic):

[from the Prologue] I love my youngest child more than the other two, and God bless them but they all know it.

Philip Pullman, Two Crafty Criminals! And How They Were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang (Knopf):

[from “Thunderbolt’s Waxwork”] The criminal career of Thunderbolt Dobney began on a foggy November evening outside the Waxwork Museum.

[from “The Gas-Fitter’s Ball”] There was a terrible shortage of crime in Lambeth in the summer of 1895, and the New Cut Gang were lamenting the fact, loudly.

Christopher Healy, The Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom (Walden Pond Press):

Prince Charming is afraid of old ladies. Didn’t know that, did you?

Martha Brockenbrough, Devine Intervention (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine):
This one has two great openings: First is a reproduction of a document titled “The Guardian Angels’ Handbook: Soul Rehab Edition,” which begins:

“Congratulations! You have been selected for membership in SRPNT, the Soul Rehabilitation Program for Nefarious Teens (Deceased).

And then Chapter One:

One Monday morning, a couple years before my cousin Mike shot me in the forehead with an arrow, my eighth-grade homeroom teacher brought two cartons of raw eggs to school.

Readers, what 2012 titles releasing in January-June have opening lines that suck you in like water on a hot pumice stone?

6 thoughts on “Great Beginnings

  1. Elizabeth Bluemle

    By the way, I realize the water/pumice simile is a bit overwrought, but it amused me and I couldn’t help myself. : )

  2. Marsha Harrington

    Harlow Coban, Life in Death, Prologue:
    “I remember everything.”
    And then Chapter 1:
    Dr. Chiba was sure he’d seen the worst in human depravity in his twenty-eight years as a forensic pathologist. That was, until this case.

  3. Tint

    Thank you Elizabeth for bringing to my attention more than a few books that hadn’t yet hit my radar screen (not that my “to read” pile needed the help). I’m already planning on retrieving a copy of Bliss from our warehouse to look over on my lunch break. 🙂

  4. Shelver506

    I’ve sat on this post for months until I had enough time to go through and really enjoy the lines. I’m so glad I did! Several made me grin maniacally, and those books made it onto my to-read list. Thanks!


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