Welcome to Writing Critique #1. What follows is Chapter One from a book for Young Adults. Please take some time to read and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the story and the writing. Even if you are not a writer, you are likely a reader and your opinion is extremely valuable! It is for readers and writers write. Using the comment feature, post a note to the writer and he/she will return here to gather the thoughts and ideas about this story to improve it.
Questions to answer to write helpful comments : Is the main character’s voice believable? Does the idea of the story inspire you to want to read the next chapter? Was there anything in this story/chapter that made you smile? Was there a phrase or sentence that you really liked? Why did you like it? What image or memory did it stir? Was there a moment in the story where the writing felt weak and you lost interest?
(And a note of apology to my blog followers: Apparently there is a keyboard combination that will automatically post a post whether it is ready or not! I had to quickly delete the previous post to add this paragraph. Sorry if that caused any confusion! I’m still learning:)
The world feels scary. I’m not supposed to think that; with our house tucked in a nice neighborhood, the award-winning school I attend, my friends, and with the continental distance between my front door and the war, I should feel safe. There are days I don’t think about anything but my own life. It’s usually on those days when reality sneaks in like a panther and pounces.
In the past few years there have been tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes that leveled cities, oil shortages, the War in Iraq, the debate whether we should support the troops or bash the President for sending the troops to war. Closer to home, I have to study for tests, practice the violin, remember to bring gym clothes on Monday, and to shower or not to shower after gym class. It’s enough to drive a kid to hide above the ceiling tiles; that secret place up high and dark and away from the wandering eye of the quick-judging eighth grade world.
My name is Jefferson Sherman Newton. Quite a name, huh? My parents had big dreams for me and gave me a big name to live up to. Sherman Newton is my father. He owns his own copy machine business. My mother, Mary Ellen Newton, works part-time, but you’d never know it. She is what my father calls a “professional volunteer”. Between church, the Junior League, my school, and her new job, my mother is in charge of everything.
“It’s a tradition, Jefferson,” my mom tells me when I ask her why she’s going to be gone again after dinner. “My mother was a volunteer too. I know the sacrifices you make because I’m gone at night.” She is referring to the dishes I will have to do before I can finish my homework.
“It’s traditional to abandon your family and work for free?” my brother, George, mumbled. I know Mom heard him because her face grew a shade of reddish-purple that meant she agreed with him, but was trapped by the tradition her mother had started. Her mother, my grandmother, had been the president of every volunteer organization created and as a result established in her children a sense of duty to the less fortunate. The problem was that we were becoming one of the less fortunate.
Traditions. They get you every time.
Some traditions are good. For instance, I have nothing against Halloween or Christmas because, honestly, how can free candy and presents be a bad thing? It’s the coming-of-age traditions that I’m talking about. Those traditions that mark one’s passage from kid to teen, from nerd to awesome, from phone-less to smart phone. The line between child and adult has been extended from the duration of a Vision Quest to the length of time it takes to complete Junior High and High School. We no longer venture into the wilderness seeking our guiding animal like the Native Americans did. There is very little wilderness around here and no vacation time for us to go. Instead, becoming an adult is accomplished through a series of small accomplishments scattered over eight years and judged by everyone who has an opinion.
At our school, there is one such tradition. Ceiling tiles.
Yes, you read that correctly. Ceiling tiles.
The art teacher, Mrs. Spaglio, is one of those progressive teachers, always thinking of the bigger and better ideas that suck the life out of the student because of the longevity of the aftermath of potentially failed projects. We, of course, call her Mrs. Spaghetti due to the fact that her hair is long and blonde and thick like cooked noodles, but never to her face. Byron Homes did that once and is still cleaning toilets after school every Wednesday and Thursday. Mrs. Spaglio, had a crazy idea years ago that the eighth grade students would paint a ceiling tile as part of their final art contribution to the school. Mr. Retsim, the principal, loved it. The ceiling tiles were already paid for. The only expense would be the paint. This is really a result of the flopped economy, but everyone loves the idea and the school really does look better with all the colors and scenes along the ceiling.
The custodian, Mr. Moppet hates it. He spends hours each week climbing up the ladder to pull out a ceiling tile and carefully balance it as he climbs down. He dropped one once and the mess it made upset Mr. Retsim, who knew that the budget would be off because of the cost to replace it.
Mr. Moppet and the Unfortunate Ceiling Tile. Sounds like a bad title to a book.
More than that, Mr. Retsim doesn’t like the gaping holes in the ceiling while each tile is being painted, so Mr. Moppet needs to constantly change them out.
The ladder is his other nemesis.
“Can’t leave the ladder out, Mr. Moppet,” Mr. Retsim said. “It’s a hazard for these young ones. Never know who might climb up into the ceiling to make a break for it.” It’s statements like this that leads all of us to believe that Mr. Retsim was formerly a prison warden.
That’s why it’s common to see Mr. Moppet carrying the ladder like some overgrown child. He mutters to it, complaining about the tiles and students. Mr. Moppet is not allowed to carry the ladder in the halls between classes. That’s how Cecilia Bunkle got her dentures.
Another tradition in our family is the complete absence of an artistic ability. My older brother and sister’s ceiling tiles were tucked away in the corner over the emergency exit in the science hallway. Their paintings were so awful that when the light nearest that science hallway emergency door burnt out, Mr. Retsim didn’t work the replacement into the budget until both my brother and sister were in high school. If I can break this tradition and win, my tile will be hung over the door to the main office; I will get an ‘A’ in art and will be guaranteed a place in the advanced art class in high school.
I know what you’re wondering…Do I have any artistic ability? Compared to my brother and sister, I’m a Picasso. No, he was too abstract. I’m more like Van Gogh. But compared to Caitlin Amore, I draw as if I have two left hands and paint like I hold the brush in my mouth. Caitlin Amore will be famous someday for her art work. She’s my main competition for the main office tile prize.
She’s also my best friend.
If I win the contest, I’m worried that we won’t be friends anymore.
If she wins, I’ll be happy for her, but I’ll feel bad.
Should I be a gentleman and let her win the Ceiling Tile contest?
Is the age of chivalry dead? Or will the new tradition of men and women, boys and girls being equals spare me?