Brilliant Beginnings: Jessica Lee Anderson’s Calli
The beginning of a book is oh so important. The first page can mean the difference between someone buying the book and leaving it on the shelf. And as much as writers write because they love it, they equal love when people buy their books and read them.
Brilliant beginnings aren’t easy. They have to give information about the story, set the tone of the book, introduce the main character and, of course, entice readers to keep going.
When I find books that do all that with a brilliant beginning, I love to celebrate them. The latest I’ve found is Jessica Lee Anderson’s Calli.
Here’s how the story begins:
A girl rushes to the tallest guy in tenth grade and reaches up to drape her thin, muscular arms around his neck. The girl’s shirt rises up while her baggy khakis slide down over her narrow hips, revealing the strings of her red underwear.
The guys keeps his hands tucked in his pockets as the girl tilts her head slightly. She leans in to kiss him.
She kisses him.
Cherish kisses Dub.
My foster sister, Cherish, kisses my boyfriend, Dub.
Oh. My. God. He’s not stopping her.
My blood feels like crude oil bubbling in a refinery furnace.
Inside me, the crude oil separates into toxic fuel. I want to yell at them to stop, to push each other away, but my words are trapped. My eyes and ears hurt from the pressure of holding back the tears. The hallway is full of students watching me, waiting for my reaction.
Like Cherish told me before, I’m a chicken turd. She thinks I won’t do anything. But she’s wrong.
That’s the first page of Calli, and as well as entertaining us with beautiful writing, it tells us so much about the story we’re about to read and the characters in it.
We know that our heroine, Calli, has a boyfriend, Dub, and a foster sister, Cherish, and that the relationship between Calli and Cherish is not exactly one of sisterly love. We learn that Calli is perhaps quiet or on the less confident side because she doesn’t rush up to them and shout, “What the hell?” Opposite to Cherish, who seems like she might enjoy letting the top of her red underwear peek out from her pants. But, with that last sentence, we also know that while Calli might not have the strength to do anything right now, she’s not a coward.
So we learn that this is a relationship story between two foster sisters, as well as the story of how one teen is going to gain the courage to stand up for herself.
And we got all that from the first page of the book.
On the subject of that beautiful writing, I love the way Jessica begins the scene describing just a boy and girl, any boy and girl, doing something that could be happy and celebratory, something that any boy and girl would love to be doing, an innocent kiss. But is it innocent? That red underwear suggests otherwise.
And Jessica wonderfully leads us from looking at the scene as if we’re hovering outside to in closer, then closer and finally so close that we’re seeing the scene through Calli’s eyes — and it’s anything but nice and innocent.
It’s lovely writing, brilliantly done by Jessica, and it made me want to read more.
As important as first pages are, the rest of the book must be equally amazing to keep readers — including agents and editors — turning pages. But knowing what a brilliant beginning is can help us create a brilliant book.
What was the last book beginning that made you go, “Wow! I have to read this?”