Best First Lines, 2016 Edition

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 21, 2016

It’s time to corral the best MG and YA openers in this year’s offerings.
What makes first lines stand out? Sometimes it’s the beauty of the writing. Often, it’s the satisfying immediate revelation of character or situation or mood—surprise, dread, suspense, or humor— that slaps readers in the face, in a good way. Sometimes, it’s that elusive thing called “voice” — a freshness and authority that stands out from less distinctive writing.
I’ve gathered the openers into slightly arbitrary, “why-I-liked-these” categories.
Great first lines I’ve missed — and with several thousand new books out in 2016, I have missed many — can be added via the Comments section below. (Psst! Editors, I’m talking to you. You know which opening lines made your own editorial hearts beat faster.)
My underwear is in the apple tree. —The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood (Roaring Brook)
Check this out. This dude named Andrew Dahl holds the world record for blowing up the most balloons . . . with his nose. Yeah. —Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy)
Like I told my friends at school, living in a motel is always exciting—especially during an alligator attack. —Welcome to Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel by Chris Grabenstein (Random House)
When Katelyn Ogden blew up in third period pre-calc, the janitor probably figured he’d only have to scrub guts off one whiteboard this year. Makes sense. In the past, kids didn’t randomly explode. —Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer (Dutton)
It’s hard to smile when you’re having dinner with Nazis. —Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz (Scholastic)
In my fifteen years, I have stuck my arm in a vat of slithering eels, climbed all the major hills of San Francisco, and tiptoed over the graves of a hundred souls. Today, I will walk on air. —Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (Putnam)
If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering who you are. I’ll give you three clues. —The Memory Book by Lara Avery (Poppy/ Little, Brown)
Nobody believed me when I said two skunks stole my old trike. But I’d seen those stinkers take it. —The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez by Robin Yardi (Carolrhoda)
The bullfrog was only half dead, which was perfect. —Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley (FSG)
On a clear and sunny morning in September, a twelve-year-old girl named Alice Mayfair stood in the sunshine on the corner of Eighty-Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City and tried to disappear. —The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner (Aladdin)
My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine, and again four years later when he was twelve. —Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford (Schwartz & Wade)
When the sea turned to silver and the cold froze the light of the sun, Pinmei knew the Black Tortoise of Winter had arrived with his usual calmness. —When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (Little, Brown)
Baltimore was a beautiful, twinkling, probably hostile collection of lights up ahead, half-hidden by two sheltering arms of land and one massive fortress. —The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford (Henry Holt)
A pair of rather large, blue-green beetles buzzed north over the River Thames, weaving back and forth over the water’s surface in that haphazard pattern that beetles fly. —The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal (Simon & Schuster)
When Night looked down, it saw its own eyes staring back at it. —Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (Tor Teen)
The recipe for Korean dumplings on the K-Chow Goddess’s blog has a picture of her dumplings after they’ve been made but before they’ve been cooked, and they look so good you can practically smell them. —Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine)
The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth. —The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Abrams/Amulet)
Blue, for example. / Like the color the sun makes the sea. Like the beach bucket he wore as a hat, king of the tidal parade. —This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart (Chronicle)
I throw open the windows to Doña Maria’s front room and Sosúa Bay glitters like butterfly wings tipped in silver. —Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph (Blouse & Skirt Books)
I must write this account, and when I have finished, I will burn it. —The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (Viking)
The Crown’s Game is an old one, older than the tsardom itself. It began long ago, in the age of Rurik, Prince of Novgorod, when Russia was still a cluster of tribes, wild and lawless and young. —The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill. And as I see it, they’re all innocents. Even the guilty. —Scythe by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster)
A young queen stands barefoot on a wooden block with her arms outstretched. She has only her scant underclothes and the long, black hair that hangs down her back to fend off the drafts. —Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake (HarperTeen)
You’re still alive in alternate universes, Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral. —History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen)
It is the night before the boy is to be executed on Gallows Hill. He is sentenced to death on charges of arson and the murder of the sheriff’s little son with a stone. —The Last Execution by Jesper Wung-Sung (Atheneum)
In the land of the Spider gods, a girl counted the stars and waited. —Children of the Spider by Imam Baksh (Blouse & Skirt Books)
It was their sixth day in hell, otherwise known as the Hayneville jail. Toilets overflowed. Plates of greasy beans rotted on the floor, and the sheriff refused to take any of it away. —Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek)
Yes. There is a witch in the woods. There has always been a witch. Will you stop your fidgeting for once? My stars! I have never seen such a fidgety child. —The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin)
Thank God for Alexander Graham Bell. If the phone hadn’t started ringing, my crazy-drunk stepfather probably would have finished beating me to death with his belt. —Character, Driven by David Lubar (Tor Teen)
Here’s the situation: We’re lost in the desert somewhere west of Albuquerque, and the car we’ve stolen is nose-first in the dirt with a flat tire. —The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiley (McElderry)
Everyone will mention the same thing, and if they don’t, when you ask them, they will remember. It was a perfect day. —Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Atheneum)
I now have a greater appreciation of toilets. Especially toilets that work. —Escape from Dorkville by Dean Ammerman (Kabloona)
I never thought I’d say this, but nuns and noodles can change your life. —Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)
I don’t consider myself to be precious, necessarily, but give me air-conditioning or give me death. —The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle (Simon & Schuster)
The truth is, she was ornery and stubborn, wouldn’t listen to a n y b o d y, and selfish beyond selfish, and filthy, caked with mud and dust, and moody: you’d better watch it or she’d knock you flat. —Moo by Sharon Creech (Harper)
See, the flow’s the thing. You know, we all got our swagger when we’re on the block. —Riding Chance by Christine Kendall (Scholastic Press)
There are four of us dudes sitting here right now, and I kick all of their butts when it comes to video games—and I’m not even a dude in the first place. —Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen)
I am going to be flogged, and I don’t know why I’m so surprised about it. —The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron (Scholastic Press)
Look here, Mac. I’m gonna give it to you straight: grown-ups lie. —Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House)
I am a girl of definitions, of logic, of black and white. Remember this. —Flawed by Cecelia Ahern (Feiwel and Friends)
Listen, I didn’t want to talk about poinsettias in the first place. But if I recite a fact, it is the fact talking, not me. —Mayday by Karen Harrington (Little, Brown)
#460. Poop. Poop is stupid. Stupid poop. Stupid poopid. Is poopidity a word? Genie stood a few feet away from Samantha’s shabby old doghouse, scribbling a mess of words in his notebook. —As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy)
“Vexation, bother, and blast,” I muttered, trying to blink away the sweat that stung my eyes. —Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson (Atheneum)
The fox felt the car slow before the boy did, as he felt everything first. Through the pads of his paws, along his spine, in the sensitive whiskers at his wrists. —Pax by Sara Pennypacker (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Just after midnight, Mary Hayes crept into the kitchen of the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies and opened a small door on the side of the enormous cast-iron stove. Then she took a deep breath and shoved herself inside. —The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh (Disney-Hyperion)
The king is ready for war. Louis of France is not yet thirty, and already he is the greatest king in Europe. He loves his subjects. He loves God. And his armies have never been defeated. This war, though, is different. He is not fighting another army. He is not fighting another king. He is fighting three children. And their dog. —The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (Dutton)
Mr. McInerney drives way too slow, which is weird for a man who spends his life running into burning buildings. —Burn, Baby, Burn by Meg Medina (Candlewick)
Few things were worth the risk to my life, but the juicy vinefruit was one of them. —The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic Press)
Once, when I was very small, I bit my mom’s finger. —A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova (Groundwood)
History might be whittled down until all that remains are shining fables of fairy magic and curse-defying kisses. —Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West (Holiday House)
No matter that there are only 130
licensed black pilots in the whole nation.
Your goal of being a pilot cannot be grounded.
You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford (Atheneum)
“Remember, you’re not special, Annie,” Mrs. Betsey told the small girl next to her as they stood on the rickety wooden step of the trailer. —Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones (Bloomsbury)
A long time before Bas died, we had a pretend argument about whose fault it was that he’d fallen in love with me. —Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (Little, Brown)
Whenever Poppy Caldwell glanced in a mirror, she saw another girl standing behind her. —The Gathering (Shadow House #1) by Dan Poblocki (Scholastic Press)
Friday. The football field, 8:55 p.m. Gerard Cole was in love with the Montague twins, and not for the same dumb reason as everyone else. —We Know It Was You by Maggie Thrash (Simon Pulse)
My best friend, Brooke, and I have Mrs. Block for fifth grade, except we are trying to pretend we are not best friends so Mrs. Block will put us together when she does the new seating chart, which we hope is extremely soon. —Kate the Great Except When She’s Not by Suzy Becker (Crown)
Bet you’d never thought you’d be sitting at the freak table. It’s okay. You get used to it. Trust me. —The Fall of Butterflies by Andrea Portes (HarperTeen)
I should have been born with an owner’s manual. —Draw the Line by Laurent Linn (McElderry)
Once upon a time, in a kingdom just over the next hill, there lived a fierce warrior hamster named Harriet Hamsterbone. —Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic by Ursula Vernon (Dial)
The first time my future vanished was July 19, 2034. —On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (Abrams/Amulet)
“Oh my future Queen, you’re late!” —Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes (HarperTeen)

2 thoughts on “Best First Lines, 2016 Edition

  1. rds

    Since you seem to allow for a little more than just the first sentence, here’s one of my favorites from this year, from Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin (Atheneum):
    Neighbors call us brats, unruly yelling monsters who pick fights with their children, litter their lawns, and scream at night when we should be asleep. We hear “Where is your mother?” daily, a question as boring as bedtime prayers. Adrienne, my older sister with the filthy mouth, always yells back, “She’s dying, so why don’t you shut the hell up?”


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