This is something new for me. I love to read book reviews, but shudder at the thought of writing them. They send me into that swirling toilet flush of memories of book reports … which remind me of school … which remind me of homework … which is to be avoided at all costs. Don’t get me wrong. I loved school and certainly did my share of homework — enthusiastically, I might add, because I was one of Those Kids — but there was always something a bit sinister in the dreaded Book Report. How could I possibly report about something I found so moving or that spoke to me in a new voice or that opened my mind to new ideas?!
So, I’ve decided to break Book Report’s hold over me and create a format I can support. There’s no rhyme or reason to the books I read and choose to review, but I’m calling them First Page Reviews, because they’re just that. A review of the first page. Any book you hear about here definitely gets two thumbs up … or five stars … or the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval … or whatever fabutastic books get.
This speaks to me as a writer because first pages are how editors and literary agents judge us. Sometimes they give us as many as three pages before they make a judgment about our writing, but I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard industry professionals say if the first sentence doesn’t grab them, then that’s all they read. Not EVEN one page. So I’ve become a student of first pages and thought you’d like to hear about excellent books with great openings.
First Page Review — Harley Like A Person by Cat Bauer
I’m under the bed. They don’t know it. They think I’ve run away again. And I have. Only this time I’m under the bed.
I can see their shoes as they walk around my room. There are my mother’s small fat feet squished into a pair of blue K-Mart specials. My father’s cowboy boots stampede across the linoleum floor. In the corner, my tiny sister, Lily, flutters her pink ballet slippers against the metal bed frame. She whispers “row, row, row your boat” over and over.
My mother’s sneakers zigzag as she paces. “Where does she go? That kid will give me a heart attack!” My father doesn’t answer. My father doesn’t talk when he’s mad. He roars.
My mother shakes my little sister. I crane my neck, straining to see. She grabs Lily’s face. She squeezes her cheeks. She is angry at my father, but Lily gets it. Whoever is in the room gets their anger; this is why I’m under the bed. I want to yank my mother’s hands away, make her stop. “Where is she?” Her words are hot and Lily gets burned. “Where is Harley?”
My sister knows what’s coming. So do I. She starts to tremble. “I…I don’t know.” She speaks the truth. She doesn’t know. I feel bad that Lily is being tortured because of me. But although she is only five years old, she is a strong prisoner and does not break.
“Let me handle this, Peppy.” My father speaks softly. Not a good sign. Lily is caught in the crossfire; the battle is between the two of them. My father rumbles over to Lily. He removes his belt. It has a big silver buckle in the shape of Texas, even though we live in New Jersey.
I love this opening. It pulls me right into Harley’s world, a heartbreaking, hopeful, funny place. You’ll see that Bauer shows who these people are in a very short space, simply by describing their feet and hearing a few words from them.
— Lily is on my bed, playing Barbie. She has pulled off Barbie’s head and stuck pins into the earlobes for earrings. She makes an announcement, one she invented herself, in her squeaky voice: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, ALL the girls and NO boys, starring … Barbie!” No one but Lily knows what this means.
— This is a surprise. I am behaving like Romeo when he saw Juliet, falling in love all over the place.
— “A long time ago, when I was younger than you, my real daddy gave him to me for protection. It’s a magic clown. He watches over me with his baton so no one can hurt me. See, it says, ‘Papa loves you, forever and a day.’ Nice, huh?” I click off my lamp. I wrap Lily and the harlequin together in my arms. She weighs as much as a cobweb.
The book cover above is the new release, but this well-loved fan copy is my favorite photo, using the original cover.
Tomorrow read an interview with Cat Bauer, who lives in Venice but doesn’t own a camera!!
What did you think of Harley Like A Person? (Haven’t read it yet? Go ahead. We’ll wait.)