Query Hack: Critique #24 – YA Magical Realism

Dear Query Hack,

I was drawn to your love of plot twists and unique concepts, as well as diverse characters and mental health representation. CROSSING THE RUBICON is a 58,000-word YA magical realism novel. Crossing the Rubicon has been compared to CORALINE and A MONSTER CALLS meets THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.

  • My first reaction was I wonder if your manuscript was on the short side for word count. I don’t specialize in magical realism, so I can’t say for certain. But maybe do some more research here to see what’s typical for debut writers?  
  • I saw a few grammar mistakes and unnecessary commas. I’d take a second look through your query for that!
  • I’d rewrite your second and third sentences:

CROSSING THE RUBICON is a 58,000-word YA magical realism novel, which has been compared to CORALINE and A MONSTER CALLS meets THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.

The word ‘suicide’ no longer exists in the traditional sense. Instead, anyone struggling with their life can supposedly find their happy ending by permanently crossing through a door in the Rubicon, a mysterious building in the city’s center. 14-year-old Rhody Jones has never thought twice about the Rubicon, until his older brother Kyle’s name appears in a list of people who’ve crossed on the morning news after Kyle’s girlfriend dumps him.

  • While you have a powerful first sentence, I think it’s important to give the reader context. Where is this book taking place? For example, you could say: “In 2118 America, the word ‘suicide’…”
  • Why did you include the word “supposedly” in your second sentence? Does society question whether or not happiness can be found through Rubicon?
  • Also, why emphasize the lack of suicide in this world? Why not say that “sadness” doesn’t exist? Not only can suicide can be triggering for certain readers, I wonder why a seemingly dystopian society wouldn’t go right for eliminating a certain emotion (vs. an action that’s triggered by an emotion). 
  • Where does the door in Rubicon lead to? How many have passed through this door? Are there rumors surrounding the people who go through this door? Do they come out of the other side and return to society as a changed, happier person? Or are they never seen or heard from again? 
  • While breakups can most certainly be deeply upsetting (even debilitating for a time), why would Kyle go through this Rubicon door? Was he contemplating suicide? 
  • I think my greatest question/concern here is why suicide is the focus of this door (vs. something else, such as sadness). 
  • Also, you shouldn’t start a sentence with a numerical value. Instead, write your last sentence in this paragraph as: “Fourteen-year-old…”

Refusing to believe he’s gone, Rhody embarks on a quest to bring Kyle back. But no one has ever returned from the Rubicon once they’ve passed the point of no return. Rhody gains more questions than answers when he enters the Rubicon, facing an impossibly long hallway with countless doors—and no way to know which one Kyle used.

  • Okay, so no one returns once they’ve passed through the door? Where does everyone believe they go to? A land without sadness or misery? If no one has returned, why would going through this door be appealing for people? 
  • I’d like to better understand how Rhody gets into Rubicon (is it a high-security building?), what questions he has, what he saw, and how he got out. Remember to use specific (vs. vague) conflict in a query. (Check out our iWriterly video on this topic for more info.) 

Rhody is determined to discover what really happens when one crosses. Yet there are monsters and guards set on stopping Rhody from obtaining the truth, leading to an unexpected partnership with a girl named Ninah Martinez. Rhody prefers to remain friendless after being bullied in the past. He doesn’t want Ninah’s help, but she refuses to leave, set on finding her mom. Together they learn that the Rubicon has rules, and they must play its game.

If Rhody and Ninah fail, they’ll lose their loved ones forever—and they might even lose themselves if they go too far.

  • Why has no one else been curious why people haven’t returned from Rubicon? Is there a governing police force that stifles questions through violence?
  • Where do the monsters come in? Unclear. Are they standing guard at Rubicon?
  • Who is Ninah and why does Rhody team up with her? What assistance is she offering (that would make Rhody want to team up with her) or why is she motivated to find out more answers about Rubicon? 
  • If you can, be more specific about what Rubicon’s rules are. What game are they playing? (Specific vs. vague conflict.)

I am a Chicago-native now living in Arizona. After graduating, I pursued a career in veterinary public health and have published over a dozen scientific manuscripts since 2015. I give writing motivation and interact with other writers and readers via my Instagram and Twitter accounts. I am also an SCBWI member.

  • Change “… an SCBWI member” to “I am also a member of SCBWI.”
  • After reading your query, I realized I don’t know where your story takes place. In fact, it sounds like it could be a futuristic, dystopian setting. If that’s the case, you will probably want to change your genre (from magical realism). 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon and hope that we can bond over our mutual love of dogs and coffee.