Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CAGI Entry #75

Genre: YA Speculative Fiction
Word Count: 81,000


Our leaders made a deal. Now it’s coming due. Sacrifice the many to save the few. Set in 2074, PRIME GRADE is an 81,000 word YA Speculative Fiction about the government’s Faustian bargain to save humanity through population reduction and a group of teenage rebels’ bid to save those slotted for death.

When sixteen-year-old Delle Jacobs gets a prime grade – the highest possible score – on her final examination, she’s earned a top placement with the government. She’s not surprised when a man comes to take her away – at least, not until he hides her in the Detroit slums and tells her she’s an addict.

The next morning, Delle starts to sweat, vomit and hallucinate. Emerging from her detox, she meets Oren, a young insurgent in the underground Garden Movement. The Gardeners, not the government, have taken Delle. Oren explains how the government injects opiates into the Food Cube, the country’s only food source, and the Gardeners are close to uncovering the government’s grand plan. In a hidden garden, Oren gives Delle her first taste of real food and convinces her to join the rebellion.

When they reach the Gardeners’ Boston base, Delle discovers why they need her, and it’s not for her prime grade. They have her father, a government scientist, and Delle’s the leverage they need to make him talk. Delle can’t dwell on Oren’s betrayal because her father’s secrets are all-consuming. He’s helped the government develop a mass-euthanizing device – the End Cube. One bite and you’re dead.

PRIME GRADE, a stand-alone story with series potential, would appeal to readers of Veronica Roth's Divergent series and Marie Lu's Legend. I graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, and I work as an attorney and human resources director in Boston.

First 250:

As soon as I stepped behind the curtain, I fed the schematic through the grader. I rubbed my arms while I waited, gliding my fingers across the goose-bumps. Why do they keep it so cold in the Testing Center? At least I had something to do with my shaky hands.  

I didn’t remember it taking so long at my other Examinations. Maybe Final Examination was different. No clue why. We’d been culled so many times you’d think all the computer had to do was look up my prior scores and spit out my grade.
A drop of sweat snaked its way down my forehead. Weird. I was sweating and freezing at the same time. The sweat burned when it got in my eye, but I didn’t blink. I kept my eyes fixed on the projection. It read “Processing.”


D.O.B.: JULY 28, 2058

Well, there it was. The same. But not the same. Because it was Final Grade. I knew I should feel something. Pride, excitement, glee. Primes were practically mythic – usually one per grade at most. Kids in the Metro grew up dreaming of a Prime grade and its elite Bureau placement. I’d dreamt of it. But for me, it was more of an expectation, a base line. What mattered came after. I guess I did feel something. Dread.

I was supposed to drag my finger across the “OK” bar hovering in the air. I didn’t think I could lift my arm.


  1. I think you have something very unique here. I really like the "One bite and you’re dead." punch line at the end of your query. It's awesome!

    It might be better to start the query with "When sixteen-year-old Delle Jacobs" instead of "Our leaders made a deal". The first paragraph is interesting but it's little too much on the telling side.

    The concept is great and I like the world building but I think it would be nice to explain the terms a bit ("Food Cube", "Final Grade" and "Prime grade") so we know that they are. I like the 250, and my suggestion is to pare back the new terms. It's hard to remember all of them when I've only heard them for the first time.

    Best of luck to you and thanks for the nice comment you left on my entry (95) :)

  2. Hi!

    I have to say, I love this.

    Honestly, I'm no expert, but I like that you start your query with world building instead of the formula of MC first. Again, I'm probably totally wrong, but I like to know where I am before you introduce me to someone. Personal preference. And I think it's strong, but I think perhaps you may have to cut some of it. You have so many details, it's a little like a synopsis of the beginning. This, then this, then this...) That said, I liked every single detail and you had me the whole way through. I could follow your story without getting lost. It made me think that the book is probably awesome.

    And the first 250 confirmed it for me. All I'll say is your voice jumps right out, and you have a real talent for 'showing' instead of 'telling'. The very last two sentences. I know she feels burdened. That she's trying to keep the fear buried and it's immobilizing her. But you didn't have to say that. I dig it.

    Marie (#77)

  3. Wow! This is an amazing concept! I'm not usually a fan of futuristic settings but this would absolutely be on my TBR pile. No doubt!

    With your query, I agree with previous posters that the first paragraph is a little confusing. I liked the first string of sentences very much. I would definitely keep them. But once you got into the Faustian part in the "Set in 2074..." sentence, you lost me and it was hard for me to orient myself. It's a great summary sentence (almost exactly like a one-sentence pitch!), so I wouldn't delete it altogether. I just think you might want to put that sentence at the very end, after I've read through the meat and now understood what it means. That way, I've got a little background for processing that "Set in 2074....." sentence.

    As for the first 250....what to say? It's great! Not much commentary to offer. I loved the ending, the way her fingers hovers over the OK bar. That was a great image and gave me a great sense of the "dread" she'd mentioned. Fantastic job!

  4. Hi! What a cool concept! If you have any questions, catch me on Twitter! (@andimjulie)

    QUERY: I can totally see that you're well written and all that jazz, but I think the query is a little on the long side. I wonder if you could cut out some world vocabulary and excess character names. I don't think all the world vocab is necessary in the query, especially since it can be a little overwhelming. Right now, the query is reading more synopsis than query. So, think jacket copy! Personally, I love the first line, but would add the word count & time to that last paragraph and do away with the rest. I do love the Faustian thing, so you could find a way to work that in the last paragraph too. That first paragraph just throws me. I also think this line can go: "Delle can’t dwell on Oren’s betrayal because her father’s secrets are all-consuming." That's totally synopsis-worthy, but not so much in a query. Seriously, great job! I think you're pretty close on the query!

    First250: The voice is great! Some of the terms are a little overwhelming, especially since what she was feeling is so human. So, be careful of distracting the reader from this great thing you've got going. Fantastic job!

    Good luck,75!

    1. Oh also, going on first 250 alone, its not clear that Delle is female. (unless I missed something) So you might consider including her sex in her test scores?

    2. Thanks so much, Julie! I tweeted you last night to say thank you. I appreciate your kind comments. And as for my query . . . I'm sure I saw my chisel around here somewhere.