A couple of preliminary notes:
- The text in bold would usually be in comment boxes. Alas, web formatting makes this critique look a lot messier than it would in Word.
- Text that's underlined should be in strikethrough (alas, my poor blog does not have strikethrough as a formatting option)
- In a few places I’ve suggested possible rephrasings that may turn out not to fit the bill at all. I offer them as examples for clarity and as a jumping-off point for brainstorming. These are of course the author’s to mess around with, use whole hog, or disregard entirely as she sees fit.
Forced by her parents’ divorce to move to her grandmother’s California vineyard, sixteen-year-old Wren Newmann is convinced she will die a shriveled, wine-country virgin. Ha, I love the voice here. Though I’m not sure why a California vineyard dooms her to this fate? Is it just isolated? Does she have trouble meeting new people? Maybe you could use a different transition in the next paragraph to make this clear…instead of “the only things she has going for her,” you could start with a few words of explanation, e.g. “Wren’s anxiety makes meeting people an ordeal, and there aren’t exactly plenty of fish in the sea in a town of 500/when the nearest town is 100 miles away. [Something about her crush on Jay, who doesn’t know she exists?] Her only consolations are Panayis, the cute Greek farm hand…”
The only things she has going for her are Panayis, the cute Greek farm hand insistent on being her friend, and her diet plan, a purging routine she uses to keep her weight down and the parental demons at bay. “Parental demons” meaning expectations she’s internalized from her parents? What are they? Can you rephrase to add clarity, more details, or more voice? How would she describe them? But her dating prospects improve when Jay, her country crush, notices her. As their relationship heats up, the pressure of life with the party crowd creates cracks in her social armor. Ooh, nice conflicting fears and desires here between her wanting to fit in and her purging and anxiety. Can you be more specific about her social armor? What form do these cracks take exactly? If this refers to the secret purging mentioned below, maybe move this sentence to the beginning of the next paragraph.
Wren’s increased need for secret purging sessions to alleviate her social anxiety distances her from everyone, except Panayis. This phrasing strikes me as a little detached or clinical. Again, how would she describe what she’s doing and why? Does it make her feel more in control, more worthy of love, and therefore less anxious? He's the only one who likes her as she is, I think you can omit the previous sentence; you repeat this idea more evocatively below. But she doesn't want to be attracted to an outcast like him What makes him an outcast? when the catch of the school not sure about this turn of phrase. Is there another way to put this? says he loves her. She wonders But if Panayis is such a nobody, why is he the one that makes her true self feel seen? I had to read this last phrase a couple times. Maybe something like “…why does it feel like he’s the only one who sees her true self?”
Still, Wren insists Jay is everything she could ask for in a boyfriend until he forces her into a physical relationship she’s not ready for, leaving her alone and hollow. This feels like something that belongs more in a synopsis than a query; it seems to tip the scales in favour of Panayis. I think you can omit it.
When her grandmother unexpectedly dies, As much as I like that we pull back to the wider scope of her life, again, this feels like a plot point best left to the synopsis; feels like it comes out of left field when her grandmother is mentioned so briefly above. Wren must step up to the plate and decide if the illusion of being loved is worth sacrificing the people who truly do love her, including herself. I think I’d like to be closer to Wren’s perspective here…like, if Wren knew she was sacrificing the people who truly loved her for an illusion, it wouldn’t be a difficult choice. What is she afraid to lose? One way you could put the last two paragraphs together might be something along the lines of “Jay is pressuring her to give more than she’s ready for, but to be with Panayis, not only would she have to go back to being an outcast herself, she’d have to face the [something about parental demons and eating disorder here]. Wren must decide what to sacrifice—and how far she’s willing to go.”
WITHIN AND WITHOUT is a coming of age YA love story, You could probably call this a YA contemporary novel for greater clarity; there are coming of age and love stories across genres. complete at 63,000 words. It will appeal to teens who have enjoyed Courtney C. Stevens’ FAKING NORMAL and Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY (but miss the happy ever after). I agree that 13 Reasons Why is probably not a great comp given the problems with the Netflix series. Maybe it would help to articulate what it is about that book – or the alternatives you’re considering – that reminded you of yours? (I haven’t read your comp titles, but like...“my book combines the unconventional structure and emotional heft of TITLE X with the lyrical prose and unreliable narrator of TITLE Y”)
As a literature and composition teacher, I have personally observed teens living in untenable circumstances. This project is the culmination of ten years of working with my target audience as a literature and composition teacher. I think you could use the second sentence alone; it strikes me as the stronger of the two. I hold a B.A and M.A in English, am a Master Educator and Mentor teacher for Aspire Public Schools, and teach writing at San Joaquin Delta College. My work has appeared in Artifact Nouveau.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
I think you have a solid structure here with all the pieces in the right place and some nice, intense, personal stakes. Overall, I’d encourage you to be as specific as you can, especially about the choices she’s facing, and to try to incorporate her voice in your sentences. Not meaning first person, of course, just her vocabulary or turns of phrase. Even a couple of these can go a long way.
Thanks for sharing this with me – please feel free to get in touch to ask follow-up questions or kick ideas around!