Query Critique Winner

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hi everyone!  This month's winner is Jordan Marie Green--congrats, Jordan!  Here is her original query:

Dear Ms. Pestritto,
 
I wanted to reach out to you because I read on your website that you are intrigued by books that introduce you to another culture. For this reason, I hope you will enjoy THE WAY OUR HORIZONS MEET, a contemporary YA novel at 95,500 words.
 
On his eighteenth birthday, Kam is shocked to find out that not only was he adopted, but that his parents were killed when he was an infant. Frustrated and confused, he leaves his home in rural California to learn more about his parents’ lives and heritage in Hawaii. There, he enrolls in Introduction to Hawaiian Studies and meets seventeen-year-old Lily, the professor’s daughter and expert on Hawaiian history and culture. Though she’d rather be practicing her backstroke to impress Stanford’s swim team, she is intrigued by Kam’s quest and agrees to be his guide to the island and its history.
 
With the help of Glenn, Lily’s best friend and secret admirer, Kam and Lily discover that Kam descends from Hawaiian royalty, making him heir to a contested plot of land in Waikiki. They also determine that his parents’ “car accident” was staged by members of a greedy development group who will stop at nothing to get property rights to the land. If Kam and Lily don’t find the perpetrators in time and bring them to justice, they may become the next casualties.
 
I was born and raised in Hawaii, which served as inspiration for this novel. I worked as a writer and assistant editor for LDS Living magazine. My essays were also published in the anthologies Life Lessons from Fathers of Faithand Life Lessons from Mothers of Faith.
 
Thank you for your time and consideration.
 
Sincerely,

Jordan Marie Green

...and here is my critique:

Dear Ms. Pestritto,
 
I wanted to reach out to you because I read on your website that you are intrigued by books that introduce you to another culture. For this reason, I hope you will enjoy THE WAY OUR HORIZONS MEET, a contemporary YA novel at 95,500 words.
 
On his eighteenth birthday, Kam is shocked to find out that not only that was he adopted, but also that his Hawaiian birth parents were killed when he was an infant. Frustrated and confused[This may be just me, but "frustrated and confused" don't really do it justice here.] Feeling like his world has been upended, he sees no other recourse than to he leaves his home in rural California and go on a journey to learn more about his parents’ lives and heritage in Hawaii and just what happened to them in the so-called "Paradise of the Pacific." There, he enrolls in Introduction to Hawaiian Studies and meets seventeen-year-old Lily, the professor’s daughter and expert on Hawaiian history and culture. Though she’d rather be practicing her backstroke to impress Stanford’s swim team, she is intrigued by Kam’s quest and agrees to be his guide to the island and its history. [You're losing me here.  I'm not sure how moving all the way to Hawaii just to take a college class about the culture is going to help Kam learn more about his parents.  I say cut and change to something like what I have instead.] Once he lands on the island, he meets Lily, a seventeen-year-old professor's daughter who is intrigued by his quest and agrees to help him and to be his guide.

With the help of Glenn, Lily’s best friend and secret admirer, Kam and Lily discover that Kam descends from Hawaiian royalty, making him heir to a contested plot of land in Waikiki. They also determine that his parents’ “car accident” was staged by members of a greedy development group who will stop at nothing to get property rights to the land. If Kam and Lily don’t find the perpetrators in time and bring them to justice, they may become the next casualties. [So the development group has been trying to get property rights for eighteen years?]
 

I was born and raised in Hawaii, which served as inspiration for this novel. I worked as a writer and assistant editor for LDS Living magazine. My essays were also published in the anthologies Life Lessons from Fathers of Faithand Life Lessons from Mothers of Faith.
 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jordan Marie Green

I like a lot of things about this query--the interesting premise most of all--but felt that the query itself lacked focus.  The reason I felt like lack of focus is because of the time taken to talk about him taking Hawaiian Studies classes to learn more about his parents, which didn't make sense to me, and also because the query is so short!  Jordan should definitely feel free to let this breathe a bit and not be afraid to include some more detail about the story here.

The part that most intrigued me--that Kam is descended from Hawaiian royalty--doesn't come up until the very end of the pitch.  I would have liked to have seen that more at the forefront, and learned more about what happens after Kam makes that discovery.  Does he have a King Ralph moment or is the discovery shrouded in secrecy and danger right from the start?

This is good start, though, and a great story!  What do you think?  If you have any comments or questions to chime in with, do so in the comments section below!

3 comments:

  1. First, reading the opening line reminds me of a friend of mine. If I address a crowd at an event by saying, "I wanted to thank you all for coming" he would say "So, thank them!" In other words, just say "I'm writing/querying/reaching out to you because of your interest in..." This guy has gotten in my head!

    First question: Is 95,000+ words a bit long for YA? I certainly would have (and did) read long books when I was in that age group, and I realize a great book can do pretty much whatever it wants, but I wonder if it might make agents and/or editors shy away a little.

    This seems like there is a lot of good stuff in the story here, but I think the query lacks a little in urgency and drama. It needs more tension.

    Best of luck to you, Jordan!

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  2. This story sounds great! One thing that jumped out at me - the line that says that they must "find the perpetrators in time and bring them to justice" threw me a little. Because of the lingo used, it sounds like they are law enforcement officers instead of teenagers. To up the drama, it might help to hint at why the police are not doing this job already. Are they corrupt? or do they refuse to believe that his parents were murdered, forcing the teenagers to act on their own? Hope this is helpful. Best of luck with this story and your query:)

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  3. Wow, I just saw that my query won the critique contest! Ms. Pestritto, thank you for taking the time to provide feedback on the query. Your suggestions are very helpful, and I plan to implement them directly. I appreciate the readers' comments, as well. This has given me the perfect nudge in the right direction. Thanks again! -Jordan Marie Green

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