But here's the thing. Gatekeeper, being of curious quantitative mind (when it suits--I can calculate 15 percent with the best of 'em, but don't ask me to do your kid's algebra) started counting.
I've always been rather sensitive to the promises a book cover makes. Suppose you know that something dreadful is going to happen to a character because, in B&N, you snuck in a long look at the book jacket before you were shooed to the cash register/the exit.
Would you go to the trouble of bonding with a character you know would meet a terrible arboreal death in the same way a reader, diving in synopsis- and book jacket-innocent, would? No. Thus, you've limited your experience of the work by looking ahead, injecting your own, Wait! No! Look out for that falling tree...! commentary.
Obviously we need the book cover promise--or the query letter promise--to pique the interest of the reader. But when should these promises, well, deliver?
In an informal study of the YA works I have on hand, here are some numbers.
I Am The Wallpaper by Mark Peter Hughes
- Book cover promise: p. 43, when Flooey insists she will be a different person, rise above the family life (and romantic) adversity she faces--and there are very strong hints that her diary has been posted online without her knowledge. Confirmation comes a few pages later. This happens 16.7 percent through the narrative; confirmation is page 50-something. (Sorry--it went back to the library, or I'd check.)
- 256 total pages.
- BCP p. 54, when overachieving Vassar Spore leaves to travel with her wild aunt, who blackmailed her parents into letting her take the summer off to travel. (14.67 percent)
- In side note, I found this painfully, well, tiring--it's hard to watch a protagonist spend so many pages so stressed and overworked and not feel that way oneself. After finding the BCP, I returned this, too.
- 368 pages.
- Girl working at (and trying to keep alive) her family's vampire-themed Italian restaurant falls for guy who just might be (gasp!) a vampire. No garlic for him.
- Meets him page 67. Pretty obvious he's the guy in the BCP. (19 percent)
- Total: 336 pages.
- The BCP: girl goes to private boarding school that is (whoa! Never saw it coming!) haunted.
- First confirmed ghostly activity, p. 47. At that point, the dynamics have been set. (14.6 percent)
- 320 pages
- BCP: Lucy, who the protagonist faith-healed along his speaking/performing/inspirational tour, reappears as if following him--and he can't stop thinking about her. Her reappearance is on p 73 (18.9 percent), which leads us to believe she will play a part in his future dealings.
- Before this, we're entertained by Little Texas and his rather unusual traveling revival-tent lifestyle (and his rather unusual guardians), and his massive crush on Lucy, who he meets page 35.
- Total pages: 386
- BCP: young Moose's family moves to Alcatraz so his dad can take a job as a security guard and his sister can attend a special school in San Francisco. When he meets Piper, the daughter of the warden, he knows she's trouble--while he just wants to be good.
- BCP p. 47--Piper hatches their plan for using the prison laundry service and selling it to kids at school. 21 percent.
- Total pages: 215.
- BCP: protagonist tackles guy about to shoot the president. p. 77. (18.5 percent)
- Total pages: 416
- Note that there are two strong sub-plots to keep us entertained until page 77--1) a cutie in the protagonist's art class, who turns out to be the president's son, and 2) the constant comparison between the protagonist and her seemingly perfect older sister.
- BCP: protagonist Zel (short for Rapunzel)'s mother hatches a plan to keep Zel from the prince forever. p. 62. (27 percent)
- Total pages, 227.
- Note that a great deal happened before page 62: it's established that Zel's mother has magical powers with regard to plants, and Zel meets her love interest, and his horse. Zel, Mother and the Prince have perspectives (their own chapters), which keeps us more than entertained.
- Book cover promises that the protagonist, Lee, will experience "an all-consuming preoccupation with classmate who is less a boyfriend and more than a crush--coalesce into a singular portrait of the universal pains and thrills of adolescence."
- Page 50: Lee faints while getting her ears pierced, and when she recovers, sees that Cross, the love interest, is next to her. They hang out. Romance seems a possibility. 12.4 percent.
- Total pages: 403.
- Cynda, the daughter of an innkeeper in a remote Maine location, becomes enamored of a mysterious, handsome guest. We learn that his car lurked creepily by the inn a few days before he officially appeared and announced himself (p 56) (28 percent) and that he saw her in the window watching it (p. 62). She dreams of him telling her that they are queen and king of darkness (p. 55) and he delivers the line, "I know how it is to be an outsider, alone and unhappy, misunderstood." Um, creepy. (p. 64). By page 66, we know that the strange ice figure is, without a doubt, creeping closer to the door and will, in a few days, be inside. All of these combine to deliver the book cover promise--that Cynda will not only love him, but that he's frightening, and she mustn't fall under his spell.
- Total pages: 181.