Does anyone else flip open a book, read the first sentence, and then go, “Yes.” In that moment, you know that is the book you’ll be spending the next x amount of hours with.
Today, Mandy and I are selecting a handful of first sentences from books we’ve read and rating how effective they are at getting us to read on. Of course, a first sentence can work differently for different readers! I already know I’m a huge sucker for those vague, “I can’t believe what I just did,” type lines, because what did you do??? I must read on now to see!! If the first line is nestled in a chunky paragraph, there’s a big chance I’ll pretend I didn’t notice that book and slip it back on the shelf for another day.
chunky paragraphs intimidate me, i’m lazy, let’s not pretend this is surprising news
❝ It took seven years to get the letter right. ❞ — Caraval, Stephanie Garber
MANDY: I’m torn. I’m intrigued why it took seven years to get one little letter right, but also, like, I’m kind of just like, “Well, okay then.” But I would definitely keep reading.
SHA: This line hooks me right away. What kind of letter is so important that anyone will take seven years perfecting it? I want to see the letter, find out who it is for, and how it ties into the larger context of the story.
❝Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. ❞ — Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
MANDY: This opening line is considered one of the most iconic opening lines ever, and I’m certainly one of those raising their hand in agreement. It’s honestly a rather plain sentence in technical terms, but it already creates so much atmosphere. What is Manderly? Another world? A place? Why is it important that our narrator dreamt of it? Iconic.
SHA: I would probably put this book back on the shelf. I’m not a fan of dream sequences or books that rely on past events a lot. I want to be in the present when I read.
❝ Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. ❞ — The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
MANDY: Oh, RR. It’s definitely a sentence that makes me pause and go wait, what? Lemme back that up, and then keep going because why is this man forced into half-blood life and what even is it?
SHA: What is exceptional about this line to me is it gives me an immediate taste of our narrator in less than ten words. He’s got attitude and he’s not afraid to state what he’s thinking. I also see right away that this book has its own universe—”half-blood”—and I’m intrigued to learn more what that means for our main character.
❝ Stories always begin the same way: There was and there was not. ❞ —Girl, Serpent, Thorn, Melissa Bashardoust
MANDY: I feel like this definitely has the makings of an enticing first sentence; however, there is just something off to me? I feel like I have to reread it a few times to fully understand what they are trying to say and get at.
SHA: I don’t understand what the narrator is trying to get at with this first sentence. Depending on my mood, this could either convince me to keep reading and try to understand, or put the book down and find something else.
❝ I shouldn’t have come to this party. ❞ — The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
MANDY: Honestly my motto in life, so I immediately am, like, “Yes, narrator, yes.” While there are a decent amount of openings that are variations like this, I still can get behind it, because I immediately know something is going to happen at this party that is gonna get the ball rolling on our story.
SHA: This line would not have sold me by itself. I do become interested in why our protagonist regrets attending a party, but I think this can be a common feeling that can stem from a lot of different reasons.
❝Joost had two problems: the moon and his mustache. ❞ — Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo
MANDY: Well, yeah, I’m convinced. I have so many questions that I most definitely want to know what is happening. Why is the moon a problem? And more importantly, why is his mustache?? I also like how it has a little bit of wit to it already.
SHA: I’m sold with this line. Having read the book, I can’t say it really resonates with SoC’s tone or hints toward any themes/plot elements, so it’s not a strong line. But it’s cheeky and has a punch to it.
❝ We had just started over the bridge, toward my party, when the famously cheerful “Don’t Jump” Ad clicked on. This had never happened to me before. The billboard’s advertising systems scanned me—analyzing my age, my style, even my pulse—and calculated I was in need of a friendly reminder not to kill myself. Colorful, hopping bunnies sang at my feet, on a waist-high screen that arced the full length of the bridge wall. Traffic roared along eighty feet below. Above, the city dome was lit a diffuse, fading gray by the evening sky beyond. ❞ — All Rights Reserved, Gregory Scott Katsoulis
MANDY: Whoosh, that was a lot of information to process in one paragraph. Even in just the first sentence, we’re introduced to three different things. Then add in a few more sentences that continue to add even more information. Some of the information does seem intriguing, but I’m just feeling entirely overwhelmed that I would certainly need to reread quite a few times to keep going for the rest of the story.
SHA: I already went a bit into why I’m not a fan of first line “paragraphs.” An entirely personal opinion. A lot of information is included in this one. We get the feeling right away that this society is much different from our own. I’m intrigued by the mental health aspect discussed, but also already pulled away from the story by the heavy amount of information.
❝ ‘Ben, honey, are you feeling well?.’ ❞ — I Wish You All the Best, Mason Deaver
MANDY: I just realized that not a lot of books tend to open with dialogue. I feel like that was a thing for a while, but now I’m not really seeing it. Alas, I’m a bit torn on this one again. I feel like it’s a good prompting question, but also, I’m not entirely sure that I’m as intrigued because I don’t know who Ben is and know him enough to wonder if he’s feeling well? I’m not sure (but this is book is amazing so despite being torn on first sentence, it is amazing).
SHA: As a first line, this isn’t very strong. I would expect a punchy follow-up for why this question opened our story. It’s not as common for people to say, “are you feeling well,” too, so the sentence reads a bit clunky.
Which first line drew you in the most?
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