Opening Lines: Stories that grab you at go

“You’re only as good as your opening line.”
Author Richard Peck

Some authors are masters of the opening line that grabs your attention, as well as action that keeps you hooked to the very end.   Here are the opening lines of some fantasy/adventures that I loved from beginning to end.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1), by Rick Riordan (lexile: 740; AR book level: 4.7; 377 pp)

“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now.  Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life. 
Being a half-blood is dangerous.  It’s scary.  Most if the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.”

I know … probably EVERYONE has read (or at least heard of) the HUGELY popular Percy Jackson series.  Riordan has a gift for fast-paced, funny, adventure-fantasy.  His heroes are likable, thoroughly normal, modern kids who like cell phones, video games and junk food — and who also happen to be half-bloods, the offspring of a Greek god and a mortal, with unexpected powers and a slew of monsters trying to kill them.

In The Lightning Thief, 12-year-old Percy stumbles into his half-blood nature just as he’s about to be kicked out of his sixth boarding school in as many years.  With the Minotaur (the monstrous bull-man) in hot pursuit, Percy escapes to Camp Half-Blood, a refuge for young demi-gods, where he and his companions are given  a quest to prevent a war between the gods.

This series is not only adventurous, but also funny.  I love how Greek mythology translates into the modern world: Ares (god of war) rides a Harley; Medusa (of the snaky hair) runs a garden statue emporium (think about it); Mt Olympus now resides somewhere above the Empire State Building (take the elevator to the 600th floor).   And how can you not love a book with chapter titles  like “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-algebra Teacher” and “I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom”?

The Lightning Thief has also been made into a graphic novel as well as a movie, both of which are available in local libraries.

  1. The Lightning Thief
  2. The Sea of Monsters
  3. The Titan’s Curse
  4. The Battle of the Labyrinth
  5. The Last Olympian

Once you’ve polished off those, you’ll be ready to start the series sequel, The Lost Hero.  Percy and friends play minor roles in this first book, and a new team of young heroes arrive at Camp Half-Blood, with a new quest.  (The flying mechanical dragon ALONE makes this book worth it.)  The next books are The Son of Neptune and The Mark of Athena.

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles #1), by Rick Riordan (lexile: 650 AR book level: 4.5; 516 pp)

“We have only a few hours, so listen carefully.  If you’re hearing this story, you’re already in danger.  Sadie and I may be your only chance.” 

If you liked Percy Jackson, chances are you’ll love The Red Pyramid.  You’ve once again got young heroes discovering their previously unknown magical powers and non-stop action on a quest to save the world.  This series is built on the mythology of ancient Egypt, however.  Carter and Sadie Kane, brother and sister, accompany their archaeologist father on an after-hours trip to the British Museum to view the famous Rosetta Stone.  Their father’s actions blow up the ancient artifact and he vanishes, unleashing the powers of an Egyptian god bent on world domination.  As Carter and Sadie gradually discover their own identities, they take on the mission of not only rescuing their father but also saving the world.

The next book in the series, The Throne of Fire, came out in May of 2011, and is equally action-packed.

Stormbreaker (Alex Rider series #1), by Anthony Horowitz (lexile: 670; AR book level: 5.1; 192 pp)

“When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.”

Think James Bond meets Spy Kids.  Cool gadgets.  Really bad guys, amazing escapes, saving the world.  That’s Alex Rider, a 14-year-old who is swept into the world of spying for Britain’s MI6.  When his uncle and guardian dies in a mysterious accident, Alex learns that he was really a secret agent.  Alex is then recruited to take on a mission that only a kid can accomplish:  to pose as a teenage computer whiz and infiltrate the factory of a billionaire who is donating revolutionary new “Stormbreaker” computers to every school in Britain.  Alex discovers the billionaire’s evil plan — stopping him will require a high-speed bike chase, doing battle with a Portuguese Man o’ War, and parachuting out of a hijacked plane.  The action moves so fast you may have to stop reading just to take a breath.

There’s also a graphic novel version of Stormbreaker, and it was made into a movie in 2006.  Alex’s spying adventures continue in the series:

  1. Stormbreaker
  2. Point Blank
  3. Skeleton Key
  4. Eagle Strike
  5. Scorpia
  6. Ark Angel
  7. Snakehead
  8. Crocodile Tears
  9. Scorpia Rising

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (lexile: 820;  AR book level:  5.1;  312 pp)

“There was a hand in the dark, and it held a knife.”

Nobody (or “Bod”) Owens is a normal boy … except that he lives in a graveyard.  And he’s been raised almost all his life by ghosts.  And they’ve taught him some clever tricks, like how to Dreamwalk and Fade.  Oh, and the rest of his family was murdered when he was a toddler, but he managed to crawl out the door, across the street and into an ancient cemetery, where the inhabitants hid and adopted him.

Sound creepy?  Well, it is, sort of, but not for the reasons you might think.  Most of the eccentric residents of the graveyard are not scary — they’re Bod’s family, and they work together to raise a living boy as best they can.  But lurking in the background is the killer, intent on tracking down Bod and finishing the job he failed to complete years before.  At the final confrontation, it will require the combined talents of the living and the dead to stop him.

The Graveyard Book was the 2009 Newbery Medal winner, a well-deserved honor.  It’s clever, witty, and scary, with a satisfying ending that is both happy and sad.  And if you look at the story just right, you can see that Gaiman has in fact crafted a modern, ghostly version of Kipling’s Jungle Book.


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