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.
Genre: Historical Fiction
As a child Trudi Montag thought everyone knew what went on inside others. That was before she understood the power of being different. The agony of being different. And the sin of ranting against an ineffective God. But before that—for years and years before that—she prayed to grow.
Every night she would fall asleep with the prayer that, while she slept, her body would stretch itself, grow to the size of that of other girls her age in Burgdorf—not even the taller ones like Eva Rosen, who would become her best friend in school for a brief time—but into a body with normal-length arms and legs and with a small, well-shaped head. To help God along, Trudi would hang from door frames by her fingers until they were numb, convinced she could feel her bones lengthening; many nights she’d tie her mother’s silk scarves around her head—one encircling her forehead, the other knotted beneath her chin—to keep her head from expanding.
How she prayed. And every morning, when her arms were still stubby and her legs wouldn’t reach the floor as she’d swing them from her mattress, she’d tell herself that she hadn’t prayed hard enough or that it wasn’t the right time yet, and so she’d keep praying, wishing, …
Would you turn the page? Vote now.
Today’s Book Revealed
Today’s book is Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi.
Blurb from Amazon
From the acclaimed author of Floating in My Mother’s Palm and Children and Fire, a stunning story about ordinary people living in extraordinary times—“epic, daring, magnificent, the product of a defining and mesmerizing vision” (Los Angeles Times).
Trudi Montag is a Zwerg—a dwarf—short, undesirable, different, the voice of anyone who has ever tried to fit in. Eventually she learns that being different is a secret that all humans share—from her mother who flees into madness, to her friend Georg whose parents pretend he’s a girl, to the Jews Trudi harbors in her cellar.
Ursula Hegi brings us a timeless and unforgettable story in Trudi and a small town, weaving together a profound tapestry of emotional power, humanity, and truth.
Would I Turn the Page?
The opening hooks me, and I want to know more about Trudi and her life. I feel empathy for her just from reading the first page. Trudi is obviously different and determined to change what makes her stand out. Since she’ll never be able to do anything about her height or her body type, this internal conflict will drive the plot. How will she cope with her irrevocable uniqueness?
The author provides a wealth of information in a few short paragraphs, including the fact that the setting in this first page is Germany during the First World War. We’re introduced to Trudi as a child, which hints that this will be a coming-of-age story with a strong and determined character.
I read the book and found that this particular novel illustrated for me how reading literary fiction can develop empathy. The story is powerful and powerfully told. Trudi, along with the other characters in the story, draws readers in emotionally.
The story forces you to consider what you’d do in Trudi’s circumstances. As she risks her life to save others, you can’t help but put yourself in her place. Not all her neighbours are willing to put their lives on the line for strangers (or even friends). As the years in the story pass, we get to the Second World War and gain some understanding of how Hitler and his regime were able to perpetrate atrocities without restraint.
It’s a timely and intelligent read.
What do you think?
Does this passage from Stones from the River 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.