So many secrets for such a small island. From the moment Anne Merchant arrives at Cania Christy, a boarding school for the world’s wealthiest teens, the hushed truths of this strange, unfamiliar land begin calling to her—sometimes as lulling drumbeats in the night, sometimes as piercing shrieks.
One by one, unanswered questions rise. No one will tell her why a line is painted across the island or why she is forbidden to cross it. Her every move—even her performance at the school dance—is graded as part of a competition to become valedictorian, a title that brings rewards no one will talk about. And Anne discovers that the parents of her peers surrender million-dollar possessions to enroll their kids in Cania Christy, leaving her to wonder what her lowly funeral director father could have paid to get her in and why.
As a beautiful senior struggles to help Anne make sense of this cloak-and-dagger world without breaking the rules that bind him, she must summon the courage to face the impossible truth—and change it—before she and everyone she loves is destroyed by it.
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By day, Joanna is a copywriter and the co-founder of CopyHackers.com and Page99Test.com, a critique site for published and unpublished writers. As an undergraduate student, Joanna won several academic awards for excellence in creative writing: Canada's James Patrick Folinsbee Prize, which she won twice, as well as the Godfrey Prize.
After graduating, she lived for a year on the remote northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, which is the inspiration for the verdant Wormwood Island of the V Trilogy. She holds a BA in Honors English and an MA in Communications from the University of Alberta and lives with her partner Lance in Victoria, British Columbia.
The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant is her first novel and the first installment in the V Trilogy.
5 Great First Lines of YA Books I Read in 2013
Here’s something nobody tells rich people: they die, too.
That’s the opening line of my novel The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant (in bookstores Jan 14). I can’t remember how many variations I played with when writing that opening line, but I can say for certain that the final product is nothing like the opening line of the first draft of the manuscript.
Or the second.
Or the third.
Books are, of course, comprised of thousands of thoughtfully crafted sentences – but the one line that feels the most pressure and carries the most weight is unquestionably the opening line. Some first lines become classics almost anyone can quote, like, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife” (Pride & Prejudice). Others are less memorable. But, no matter what, a first line almost always sets the tone for the entire novel.
In 2013, I stumbled upon an opening line that I absolutely fell in love with – and it’s inspired me to write this guest post on my 5 fave opening lines of YA books I read in 2013. It’s from Kendare Blake’s Antigoddess, and it kicks off this list…
The feathers were starting to be a nuisance.
Book: AntigoddessAuthor: Kendare Blake
I was already a Kendare Blake fan when I picked up Antigoddess in October and skipped quickly to the first page – the preface – on my Kindle. There, I proceeded to grow extremely jealous (in the best possible way) of Ms. Blake’s mad writing skills.
The opening line is so-so-so-so nice. It introduces us to two god-like characters who are dying, one of whom is coughing up feathers. What I love is that it reads less like the opening of a novel and more like the beginning of a short story by some 1930s southern writer.
The boy and the girl had once dreamed of ships, long ago, before they’d ever seen the True Sea.
Book: Siege and Storm (The Grisha 2)Author: Leigh Bardugo
Like Blake’s opener, this first line is also from the preface to the novel – not from the first chapter itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an opening line!
It doesn’t technically set the tone for the novel, given that the voice changes quite a bit in the proper chapters of Siege and Storm, but it is lovely – and memorable – for its simplicity.
In the dead of night I sat on a bridge spanning the Seine, watching a bouquet of crushed white lilies float toward the spotlit Eiffel Tower.
Book: If I Should Die (Revenants 3)Author: Amy Plum
It’s poetry! It’s atmospheric! And it contains a word that Microsoft doesn’t recognize: spotlit.
For me, this is an unusual opening line because it doesn’t so much invite readers to the next line – which we often see openers do – as it does invite you to stop for a second and experience just how much one writer can do with a single sentence. Re-read it now. It’s a story in itself.
Unbeknownst to the Roman community, 666 earthbound demons were making use of the infamous Colosseum.
Book: Sweet Peril (Sweet 2)Author: Wendy Higgins
When an opening line makes you smirk a little, that’s generally a good sign, I think.
I love the number of demons, I love that they’re earthbound, and I love that they’re infiltrating such a beloved part of our planet. Sweet Evil was a great read, and the opening of its sequel showed me that I was in for another fun ride from Ms. Higgins.
When the White Noise went off, we were in the garden, pulling weeds.
Book: The Darkest MindsAuthor: Alexandra Bracken
(Note: This came out in late 2012, but I read it in 2013.)
The final in my list of faves is the opening line for The Darkest Minds, which is a novel that starts so simply – in the midst of simple daily chores (at a prison camp!) – and finishes in the most heart-wrenching way. I particularly loved the swift introduction of the White Noise – you find yourself asking questions a mere 3 words into the book – and the combination of an alarm and a generally soundless activity. Great tension-creator!
There you have it! My five favorite opening lines are, admittedly, mine and based only on how I felt when reading the books they kick off – not on special criteria of any kind. Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with my selections, or if you have other faves that sat with you long after you read them.
Joanna Wiebe is the author of The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant, available Jan 14, 2014 online and in bookstores in the US and Canada. Amy Plum called the novel “deliciously dark”, and VOYA said it’s great for fans of Anna Dressed in Blood.