February 19, 2012

The First Sentence Test

     I love to do the First Sentence Test. There isn't strict criteria for what passes the test (and truth be told it's more of an opening test than strictly the first sentence) but you know almost as soon as you start reading whether or not it's a winner.
     The best first sentence I've come across in ages is courtesy of Patrick Ness' latest, A Monster Calls: "The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do." What? Are you kidding me?!? I defy anyone to read that and think "eh, not interested."
The monster by Jim Kay
 Ness' novel is about thirteen-year-old Conor who's life is turned upside down by his mother's battle with cancer. Then, to make matters worse, a monster starts visiting him, making demands Conor refuses to meet. It is one of the most fantastically imagined, harrowing stories I've ever read. Ness has a way with words that made me a compulsive re-reader: I reread sentences, then whole pages. When I finally read the last word I went back and started the book all over again. For a quick preview check out the nifty trailer which brings Jim Kay's haunting illustrations to life.
    All this is not to say that an unimpressive opening means you should stop reading. A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L'Engle's mega bestselling title, opens with what has become the classic example of what not to say: "It was a dark and stormy night." It's so trite (and yet so perfect!) that it was even mocked by everyone's favorite catz.
     Another instance is "Oh glorious, most glorious glorious! And yet again glorious!" This opening doesn't scream "READ ME!" but I would have been remiss in not continuing There Is No Dog, the newest novel by Meg Rosoff. Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if God was a teenage boy? No need. Rosoff has not only thought about it but written an uproarious and surprisingly poignant story about Bob, the confused, hormone-driven All Mighty. His long-suffering assistant, Mr. B., patiently answers prayers while Bob lusts after a mortal zoo keeper and ignores his pet Eck. And that's only the beginning. So read past all the "glorious glorious!"; you won't regret it.
      History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason is getting some nice attention, such as today's write up in the Seattle Times. I've been hearing about Mason's book for awhile but it didn't really appeal to me until I read the opening: "The adventures of adolescence had taught Piet Barol that he was extremely attractive to most women and to many men." I'm just going to say it: I like pretty men. And I suspect I will like the coming of age adventures of this pretty man who charms and seduces his way through life. And let's be honest: any time a reviewer throws out the words "Downton Abbey" these days there are a lot of us who will hop on whatever train they're advertising regardless of where it's going.
     If anything, the First Sentence Test is a fun way to engage with almost each and every book that passes through my hands. I don't have time to read everything, nor do I wish to. However, sometimes I will read something I never expected to because the first sentence is just that good. Let me leave you with one more: "The circus arrives without warning." Go. Read.
-Sarah v.M.

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