February 2020’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Literary Fiction

Nature never deceives us; it is always we who deceive ourselves. — Jean-Jacques Rousseau



That spring, rain fell in great sweeping gusts that rattled the rooftops. Water found its way into the smallest cracks and undermined the sturdiest foundations. Chunks of land that had been steady for generations fell like slag heaps on the roads below, taking houses and cars and swimming pools down with them. Trees fell over, crashed into power lines; electricity was lost. Rivers flooded their banks, washed across yards, ruined homes. People who loved each other snapped and fights erupted as the water rose and the rain continued.

Leni felt edgy, too. She was the new girl at school, just a face in the crowd; a girl with long hair, parted in the middle, who had no friends and walked to school alone.

Now she sat on her bed, with her skinny legs drawn up to her flat chest, a dog-eared paperback copy of Watership Down open beside her. Through the thin walls of the rambler, she heard her mother say, Ernt, baby, please don’t. Listen … and her father’s angry leave me the hell alone.

They were at it again. Arguing. Shouting.

Soon there would be crying.

Weather like this brought out the darkness in her father …

Would you turn the page? Vote now.

February 2020: Would you turn the page?

Today’s Book Revealed

Today’s book is The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Blurb from Amazon

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, a desperate family seeks a new beginning in the near-isolated wilderness of Alaska only to find that their unpredictable environment is less threatening than the erratic behavior found in human nature.

#1 New York Times Instant Bestseller (February 2018)

A People “Book of the Week”

Buzzfeed’s “Most Anticipated Women’s Fiction Reads of 2018”

Seattle Times’s “Books to Look Forward to in 2018”

Alaska, 1974. Ernt Allbright came home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes the impulsive decision to move his wife and daughter north where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Cora will do anything for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, has little choice but to go along, daring to hope this new land promises her family a better future.

In a wild, remote corner of Alaska, the Allbrights find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the newcomers’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own.

Would I Turn the Page?

Yes, if we’re talking about the writing style and whether, as an editor, I’d get excited about receiving it in my inbox. The writing draws me in. It opens by describing the setting at the macro level—the storm and what it’s doing to the area. Then it focuses on Leni and her personal environment, which reflects the storm outside. I loved the imagery and the writing style.

I’m not, however, crazy about the subject matter. Immediately you can see where this story is going. A young girl listening to her parents arguing and who, it’s made clear, is used to listening to her parents arguing. She recognizes the pattern: arguing, shouting, and then crying. Her father has darkness in him. This sets the tone for the story. It’ll be dark—you can already guess that it’ll be about violence in the home even without reading the blurb.

So, while I like the writing style, the character we’re introduced to (Leni is reading Watership Down, one of my favourite books), and that it’s a coming-of-age story, I prefer not to read stories about domestic violence. You know there are only a few ways such stories can end, and literary fiction isn’t known for its main characters kicking ass and living happily ever after.

I did keep turning though. This was a selection for the book club to which I belong and I read it for that reason. I’m glad I did. It’s well worth the read—so, it’s one of those books that I’m glad I’ve read though it was a challenge emotionally to read it and I shed tears while doing so.

If that hasn’t scared you off, then it’s a worthwhile read.

What do you think?

Does this passage from The Great Alone intrigue you? Does it make you want to turn the page and continue reading? Will you run out now and buy the book? Borrow it?

Val Tobin writes speculative fiction and searches the world over for the perfect butter tart. Her home is in Newmarket, Ontario, where she enjoys writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading.

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Dorita Peer
Dorita Peer
3 years ago

Had it mentioned the exotic location, I might have been drawn in. I have read many, many books over six decades of life, so this story is not unique enough for me, not as presented in the opening. My interest in reading is mostly based on my own desire for publication, but sometimes I come across a thrilling book I can’t put down; i.e. recently, The Goldfinch (read it 3X), and Last of the Breed; two very different books in style and content and length. What makes a bestseller? Maybe it is the market of the moment and the reading demographic. I would be interested in knowing what drew so many onward?
Thanks for an interesting blog.

Loni Cameron
3 years ago

I really liked the opening line, and the tension that the first page built up. If I picked it up, I would definitely keep reading. That being said, I also don’t tend to read books about domestic abuse. As you said, Literary Fiction isn’t know for its happily ever afters. I imagine, based on that first page, it would be an engrossing read.