get the newsletter

shine along

December 29, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: First Lines, take three

Kate Hart
My first two incarnations of this topic focused on YA I've read this year. But I really didn't read much YA as a teen. I basically went from the Baby Sitters Club to some upper MG, then jumped to books I had no business reading (I hear I am not alone in crediting the Earth's Children series with a good portion of my sex ed). Today I'm looking back at some of the books I loved in my younger days, to see how their first lines stack up now. My new hypothesis: The best first lines make the reader ask a question they want answered.


Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin
"The Baby-sitters Club. I'm proud to say it was totally my idea, even though the four of us worked it out together." 

Question: What's a baby sitting club?

As an adult, I obviously know, but as an 8 year old, I had no idea.

First line aside, I loved this series and owned at least 60 of the books. It has something in common with many popular series, including Harry Potter and Twilight: A full cast of characters with a little someone for everyone. As I've said before, I always wanted to be artsy, trendy, exotic Claudia, even though I was much more like her nerdy sister Janine (minus the ethnicity) or the control freak Kristy (minus the sports). I identified with one or more characters, and dreamed of being some of the others. You can pick a side, root for your fave, argue with your friends and create your own little community around it. Team Kristy, FTW!

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
"Walking back to camp through the swamp, Sam wondered whether to tell his father what he had seen."

Question: What did Sam see?

In addition, what's more appealing to a kid than having secrets from their parents? Maybe being allowed to wander around in the wilderness by yourself.

I still love this book, by the way. We recently started reading it to our four year old.


Junior High

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."

Question: How does she do that?

My mom talked me into reading Gone With The Wind because it was one of her favorites. My junior high self would have been intrigued by a character who attracted men without being beautiful, because my junior high self felt decidedly unbeautiful. Hell, I'm fine with my grown up appearance and the idea still appeals to me. The setting also appealed to my burgeoning history nerd.

The Stand by Stephen King
A mutter.
"Wake up now, Sally."
A louder mutter: leeme lone

Question: Why is he waking her up?

Granted, it's not that interesting a question, but it sets up an exciting sequence in which the characters are fleeing, and the unknown threat is the real question. "They're all D-E-A-D down there," the male character tells his wife, glancing at their child, and even though I was just a kid myself upon first read, that hit home. Their impatience with the crying baby and urgency to get away from what appears to be a military base just grips you by the throat and shakes you around.

*stands in corner and fangirls a little*


"On his thirty-sixth birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at 5:00 in the morning."

Dear lord. This is the most boring freaking first line on the planet. I don't even care enough to ask why he's up early, and it takes awhile to get going: The end of the paragraph is "He took only a package of Oreo cookies, a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-Aid, and a fully loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Chief's Special," which is somewhat intriguing, if repulsive... Hm, bottom of the page, we find out "He had not smiled in a long time." Blah blah blah.

Nothing is really gripping until a few pages later, when he finds a golden retriever that won't let him continue down the trail, and they flee some unknown creature in the woods. I think the promise on the back flap of a hyper-intelligent dog is what kept me going. That, and the fact that I had a golden growing up, so I'm a total sucker for retrievers. Either way, it eventually grabbed me, because the cover has long been worn off of my copy of this book, but on adult re-reading, I was shocked to see how slow the intro is.


High School
As a junior and senior, I had two fabulous literature teachers-- Dr. McNair and Mr. Burke-- and credit them for almost every good book I read during those years.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
"On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge."

Question: Why is he hesitant?

I'm hardly qualified to criticize the classics, but.... yawn. The next sentence ups the ante a little: "He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase." But I clearly remember reading a sentence from the third paragraph: "'I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles,' he thought, with an odd smile." How can you not wonder what a thing like that might be? I finished reading this book weeks before it was due.

The Feast of All Saints by Anne Rice
"One morning in New Orleans, in that part of the Rue Ste. Anne before it crosses Condé and becomes the lower boundary of the Place d'Armes, a young boy who had been running full tilt down the middle of the street stopped suddenly, his chest heaving, and began to deliberately and obviously follow a tall woman."

Question: Why is he following this woman?

A decent question, but really, Anne Rice's style is what always pulled me in. Her prose is so florid and lush, perfect for a New Orleans setting. When I re-read Interview with the Vampire a few months ago, I was sad to find that I have less patience for it as an adult- but that may be because I find the "spoken" format of Interview at odds with the style. I still love this particular non-vampire book.

It also helps that it introduced me to a little-known period of American history that only one of my college courses even touched on, and it wasn't even a history class: We read El reino de este mundo in a Spanish class about Cuba, and the story of Haiti's independence overlaps both topics.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
"'Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow,' said Mrs. Ramsay. 'But you'll have to be up with the lark,' she added."

Question: Who is she addressing? What does s/he want to do?

I love the next paragraph because it brings to life that sense of wonder that kids have and adults mostly lose: "To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled, the expedition were bound to take place, and the wonder to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night's darkness and day's sail, within touch." I love Virginia Woolf, despite the fact that I always feel like I'm missing something huge, distracted by the way she writes instead of paying attention to what she's written.

I barely had time to finish my assigned reading in college, much less finish books for fun, but luckily my double major-- history and Spanish-- involved lots of literature that turned out to be fun anyway.

The Things They Carried
"First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha..."

 Question: Who is Martha? Who is Jimmy? What do the letters say?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book, so it pains me to admit that its first line isn't that interesting. It gets better a few lines later: "They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross kept hoping..." Love and war, people! Unrequited love and wars that aren't officially wars, no less! Come on!

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
"My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born."

Question: "Why should they have stayed?"

Then we get one of the most quoted lines of the book: "...the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
Humor + sarcasm + promise of a good story = win.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
"Barrabás came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy."

Question: Who is Barrabás? (And how did a kid learn to write in calligraphy? *scowls at messy chicken scratch*)

I love Isabel Allende, but all of her books blur together for me, with the exceptions of Zorro, simply because its California setting is much different than the rest of her books, and this book, mostly because of this line a few pages in: "At birth Rosa was white and smooth, without a wrinkle, like a porcelain doll, with green hair and yellow eyes-- the most beautiful creature to be born on earth since the days of original sin, as the midwife put it, making the sign of the cross." I'm not positive I remember correctly that Barrabás is a dog, but Rosa's green hair has stuck with me.

Post Grad

Confederates In The Attic by Tony Horowitz
"In 1965, a century after Appomattox, the Civil War began for me at a musty apartment in New Haven, Connecticut."

Question: Is this a family issue? Does he mean an obsession with the actual Civil War? He's in Connecticut-- what do Yankees care about the Civil War? (asks the southerner)

You should read this book and find out what FARB means.

The Hobbit
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

Question: What the hell is a hobbit?

I tried multiple times to read this book as a kid, and did not succeed until my mid-20s. Draw what assumptions you will.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garbriel García Márquez
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

Question: Why is he getting shot? Why doesn't he know what ice is? What significance does the name Buendía have (asks the Spanish nerd, who knows it literally means "good day")?

It says Nobel Prize on the cover. Obviously I'm going to keep reading regardless. But those are persuasive questions.

Anna Karenina
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Question: In what way is this family unhappy? In what way is my family unhappy?

There's a reason this is one of the most quoted "best first lines" ever.


After all that, does anyone want to play a game? Leave me the first line of your current WIP(s) in the comments. Next Tuesday, I'll post them for Teaser Tuesday along with the question(s) they make me ask, and we'll let readers add their own questions and comments or suggest tweaks. I'll post my own, too, or at least its latest version. Sound fun?


  1. Your blog is fantastic, Kate, seriously. Love it!

    Ok, here is mine...

    "I had a hairy upper lip."

    Wa-bam! : -P

  2. I have so loved these posts--they're awesome! My mom wouldn't let me read the Earth's Children series until high I saw why, after I read it (since I first wanted to when I was, oh, eight. I liked the mammoths on the cover.)

    My WIP's first line: "Being dead rocks."

  3. Loved this post. My parents never paid attention to what I was reading either. You'd die for some of the titles I read before I was twelve. I read the Earth's children series then too, and about every 4-5 years since. Still waiting for the last one to come out.

    The first line from one of my WIP:

    After sixteen years of avoiding the shadows, Alex Marron felt that she should have known better.

  4. I absolutely loved Little Ashes!

    And The Babysitters club :)

    Brings back good memories, from... a 3-4 years ago XD lol

    My first line: "I can feel their eyes on me."

  5. This series ROCKS. You should totally consider cross-posting these to the Highway this Jan -- even these ones you've already posted. They need a wider audience. LOVE.

  6. Thanks for playing, girls! This will be fun!

    Angie, Clan was actually my grandma's fault-- I came home from Dallas and my parents about swallowed their tongues when they saw what I was reading. We had a very awkward conversation before I finished, lol!

    Kirsten-- I definitely will! Questions coming in the group. :)

  7. I love E. B. White! We read Charlotte's Web to my 5 year old stepdaughter a month or so ago. It was wonderful, although I got a bit weepy at the end. We've just started Stuart Little.

    My parents read me Trumpet of the Swan a long time ago and I loved it. I am so going to have to track that one down again.

  8. I love the first line to The Things They Carried. It speaks immediately of romance and longing. Beautiful in the most simple of ways.

    You have a few of my favorites here - The House of the Spirits and One Hundred Years of Solitude. What a line - imagine discovering ICE!

  9. I am ashamed to say I have not read any of these with the exception of The Hobbit. Clearly, this must be rectified.

    But I hear you on crediting Earth's Children series with my sex ed, although it was much in retrospect because I was too innocent and was mightily confused when reading them. Funnily enough, they were recommend to me by my school's librarian. I did wonder afterward if she actually read them cover-to-cover.

    I've barely begun my WiP and the first line will likely change, but I'd love to play:

    "Yuki first learned of her match-making ability the day her mom left her dad for a man connected to her by a red thread."

  10. Awesome post, Kate. It's nice to see the different starts that some of the authors have for their novels, especially "Watchers" which was indeed such a boring line, but he is an also such a famous author.

    First line of my WIP "Concealed". I'm quite happy with it:

    When I was eleven years old, I purposely seared off the tips of my fingers with a scorched pan.

  11. Baby Sitter's Club! I just got so excited :]
    Love these posts!

  12. Love the post, and very fun game! First off, I LOVE Gone with the Wind, and you made me want to drop everything and re-read it. And Angela's Ashes? Incredible voice.

    And for the first line of my YA WIP, Multiple Choice...
    "It’s just a little pink box, Maddy thought, trying to calm the twist of her stomach as she opened the front door to her house."

    Can't wait to read them all!

  13. I read Things They Carried my junior year of high school. I thought I had to read Angela's Ashes for required summer reading, found out I didn't have to, but STILL loved it. Haven't read the other ones though.

    My first few lines from Call Me Robin Hood

    "Robin Hood.

    I hear that name countless times during the school day—halls, classrooms, lunch. They aren’t talking about the fictional character that takes from the rich and gives to the poor."


All content copyright Kate Hart 2016

Template copyright @ 2016, Blogger Templates Designed By Templateism | Distributed By Blogger Templates20