School is back in session. For those in the Route 19 group who took time off over the summer holiday, the beginning of a new school year means getting back to a normal writing routine. For our readers, Marcy and I have another book to add to your fall reading list.
Welcome to September’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.
This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Lindsay Smith and her novel, Sekret.
Set in 1960's Communist Russia, the main character, Yulia, must disguise her thoughts and keep her emotions and special abilities in check in order to survive. The KGB wants her to use her power for covert operations, but since she’s against using her abilities to harm others she has to play the game in order to keep her mother and brother alive.
1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?
Dave – At this point in the novel, Yulia, the main character, has accepted her ability to read other’s thoughts. Here, she decides she will now become more powerful than, Rostov, the KGB agent in charge of the program she has been forced to participate in.
Someday, I promised myself that I will be strong enough that Rostov can’t pull my strings. I can no longer despise myself for this power. I must make it my own.
Marcy – At this point in the story, Yulia discovers a truth that shocks her after touching a document as she watches memories unfold. She doesn’t want to believe what she sees in these memories.
But I can’t control it. The memories are a hand reaching from the water, pulling me down. I’m screaming, I’m pulling away, but their dead eyes are locked onto mine and I won’t let go until I’m drowning with them.
I won’t reveal what Yulia sees, but she won’t report to Major Kruzenko the truth she discovers. When Kruzenko presses her for information, Yulia lies.
“It’s – it’s nothing. A secretary preparing documents.”
2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?
Dave - There were a lot of cliffhangers I liked, and two I particularly loved, one of which I couldn’t use without giving away the story. So I chose this one. For information purposes, a “scrubber” is an individual who has the power to change and to erase your thoughts, (or as in the scene below, multiple people) and to make you believe and do the things he or she wishes.
I charge up the hill. Valentin doesn’t even stare. I glimpse Rostov in the trees, but he, too, is lost in a daydream. The crowd shifts around me; no one complains when I push to the front of the line for the Ferris wheel. I press some kopecks into the operator’s palm. He opens the door to help me in - - and as I jolt out of my reverie, the scrubber climbs into the car with me, and the metal door slams shut.
Marcy – I turned the page so fast reading this cliffhanger at the end of chapter two, I would have ripped the page if I were reading a paper book instead of an electronic one.
They yank me from the doorway. If I were stronger, perhaps I could break free, but I’m weak from too few rations and too many years of unfocused fear. They press a rag against my mouth, and the last thing I see is our old family photo with Mama and Papa smiling right at me before I’m lost in endless black.
3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?
Dave – My favorite secondary character is Valentin. He, like Yulia, has a burning desire to be free from the iron hand of the KGB and does not feel comfortable using his powers to harm or manipulate others. Following, or a few examples:
“They have more than just the scrubbers,” Valentin says, to his plate of Chicken Kiev. “They know what we’re doing, and their blocking us. It’s another useless game, another useless race. Space, weapons, psychics. Arms races, all of them, going nowhere.”
This quote follows a brief conversation between he and Yulia about music from the west, Elvis Presley and the Beatles, that he has been allowed to listen to because of his cooperation with the KGB.
“Not all of it.” He props one hand on his forehead, and his fingertips touch my hair. “But this is music, music when restraints have been lifted. It’s the difference between plants growing in a fenced-and garden, in the same plants left to conquer an entire field.”
Marcy – It is hard to choose, but I suppose that I would pick Valentin with his intensity and concern for Yulia. In this paragraph, the two are communicating through thoughts. Typically they block their thoughts with music.
Valentin’s fidgeting brings his knee to rest against mine. I start to pull away – but his frantic jazz music ebbs and two words slip off of him onto me, like a drop of sweat.
Our eyes meet. His are a burned shade of brown, smoldering like the last winter log. I’m thankful he wears glasses because I feel like I need shielding from his intense stare. I drop my gaze and slowly peel the thrumming bass of Shostakovich away from my thoughts. What do you want to talk about? We aren’t making physical contact now, but if he’s capable of what Kruzenko claims…
I know you’re scared – hurting, perhaps. You have good reason for it. I can’t blame you for wanting to run.
Great. Does everyone know about my plan? I bury my head between my knees.
4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?
Dave – I picked two. I had to, one from early in the novel and one from later. Both are so visual and both give you an idea of the world in which Yulia lives.
The covered truck bed smells like rotted cabbage and wilted lettuce. The soldier on the bench across from me holds an AK-47 across his lap, casually, like it is no more threatening than a walking cane; but his eyes are unlit matches, and his arms, his steady fingers, are full of energy waiting to be unleashed. He is potential; he is a threat. But when our knees bang together, I get a whiff of his thoughts - the kielbassi sandwich awaiting him for lunch and the nightclub dancer awaiting him for dinner. He isn’t plotting my execution just yet, and I mean to keep it that way.
East Berlin is a concrete crypt. Everywhere I look, stark, flat buildings rise out of the shell-shocked rubble and watch us with broken windows for eyes. The streets hold no cars. The old buildings - from before Stalin seized this land for his own - look safe from one side, but when we pass them, the rest is crumpled by artillery fire, the wreckage blocked off by barbed-wire fences. The few people we pass fix their stares on their feet and hurry past us. Coal smoke and sulfur linger around every corner as we wade through half-melted black slush.
Marcy –These two sentences were powerful and foreshadowed the story nicely.
That girl dared to ask me what I am? I am the weed growing through the sidewalk’s cracks, resilient, but knowing I’ll someday be ripped out by the root.
5) What is your favorite line of dialogue? This particular line comes from earlier in the novel. Yulia is reliving the scene (by handling a stuffed animal) of a former team member, Anastasia, who committed suicide. She asks her commander how Anastasia got to be this way. If knowing this information from Kruzenko doesn’t get Yulia to conform, what will?
Dave – “She thought she could cultivate her powers on her own, without our assistance. She hungered for more and more, when she wasn’t ready. This is the fate of all of those who do not learn control. She did not listen to our rules.” Kruzenko holds her hand out to usher me out the door. “She fought against our teachings, and it drove her mad.”
Marcy – Larissa’s gift is to see the future. Although most of us do not know our futures, I thought Larrisa’s comment about her ability was both wise and insightful and showed me a lot about her character.
“I don’t see everything,” she says. “I see all the possible everythings.”
To read more about Lindsay Smith’s debut YA novel Sekret please go to: