Week 8 Finalist

TITLE: Face The Music
AUTHOR: Cynthia Justlin
CATEGORY: Contemporary YA Romance

Most of the seniors at Ravenswood High knew one word in sign language: Beethoven.

It’s what they called me. And it wasn’t meant as a compliment. I was the mad cellist, and whispers circulated about how I must have sold my soul to be able to play cello like that when I couldn’t even hear the music.

No, I’d just sold my childhood.

While other girls played with Barbie Dream Houses and Easy Bake Ovens, I studied the cello. My day revolved around music therapy classes, private lessons, and timed practices—all run with army precision by my mother. I guess if she had to be saddled with an imperfect daughter, the least she could do was make sure I was perfect at something.

I dug my fingertips into the C string and drew my bow across it, stirring up the clearest vibration of an F-note in my head. As in F-her. And the rest of Ravenswood High for treating me like a leper.

I wanted far away from this place. Far away from my mother, and the entire senior body who shunned me at every available opportunity. I wanted…Silverton School of Music, the most prestigious music college on the east coast. But Silverton was exclusive and the only way in for someone like me was through a scholarship—a scholarship that only admitted the top ten cellists to their program every year through a grueling two-day musical competition.

I was determined to be that cellist so I could tell the town of Ravenswood to kiss my ass.

I glanced up to see Cassie, my one and only ally in Ravenswood hell, making faces at me on the other side of the practice room glass. I motioned her inside with a wave of my bow, and she bounced in, tossing her black curly hair out of her eyes.

“Party at Melanie’s house tonight. You coming?”

Absolutely not.

Melanie was second chair to my first. She hated my guts. She was also competing against me for the Silverton scholarship. And the last thing I wanted was to be anywhere near the girl who’d told the entire orchestra that I’d been making out with Bobby Lundgren in the boys bathroom.

First off, the boys bathroom smelled like rancid peanut butter and stale flamin’ hot Cheetos—I’d die of asphyxiation if I even tried to set foot in there. Second, if you’d ever seen Bobby Lundgren you’d know that I valued my mouth too much to ever touch it to his. He may have been the school’s best percussionist, but his cold sore infested lips and greasy shoulder-length hair was a huge turn off. As was the fact that he’d had to leave his old school because of some sort of restraining order against the star violinist.
It was all very hush-hush, but the one advantage of being deaf was that people often forgot you could read lips. Not Cassie, though. She never forgot who I was or what I could do. And she was still waiting for an answer about Melanie’s party.

“Not on your life.” I flicked my bow in a staccato rhythm to punctuate my words. I hardly ever spoke instead of signed, but I’d let my guard down around Cassie years ago and she refused to let me put it back up.

“C’mon, Tate. Don’t be such a stick in the mud. Her parents are away for the weekend.” She rocked on her tiptoes in graceful ballet form. “It’s going to be a blast.”

Not even remotely possible.

I shook my head and drew my brows into a deep, knotted frown, letting her know that Ravenswood would have to be taken over by human-eating-fairies before I’d even consider being in the same house as Melanie.

“Please.” Cassie both signed and spoke the word, an indication that she was not above begging and pleading. “I don’t want to go alone.”

“Then don’t go,” I signed back.

“You’re not being fair.”

No, I wasn’t, but this was one area where I just couldn’t bring myself to be fair. Cassie turned her back on me. I hated when she did that and I doubt she even realized how inferior it made me feel.

I pressed my lips together and carefully set my cello on the floor, resting the bow on its side. Then I shuffled over to Cassie and spun her around.

“I can’t do it,” I said. “If it was anywhere else, maybe. But not Melanie’s.”

She shrugged my hand off her shoulder and yanked open the door. “Fine. I’ll just go by myself then.”

“Cassie, wait—”

She stormed down the hallway and I watched her go, knowing that I was stupid to alienate the one person who truly ‘got me’. I sank to my knees and wrapped my arms around my chest. Why couldn’t I have just told her yes? Why couldn’t I have just gone to the dumb party and made sure I stayed out of Melanie’s way? I squeezed my eyes shut. Don’t be a crybaby, Tate. After several minutes, I got an uncomfortable tingling up my spine. I shot to my feet and spun on my heel.

Jared Meadows was leaning against the wall, staring at me with eyes as blue as a gas flame. Jared, the drool worthy pianist. Whenever he came in to play with the orchestra I became mesmerized with the way his fingers danced across the keys. Yesterday, I had missed my cue entirely, watching him play with such passion, such emotion. Where did it come from? I’d been playing since I was old enough to hold a bow, but although I could play any piece with technical perfection, the music always left my heart feeling hollow.

My heart certainly didn’t feel hollow now. It pounded against my ribs and raced like an arpeggio. How long had he been standing there? I tugged at my ratty t-shirt, curled my toes inside my pink Dr. Martens, and blinked up at him like an idiot.


I haven’t yet read a YA ,but you may have just turned me on to the genre, Cynthia. Nice opening line – a two-fer, in that I’m interested in reading on to find out why the students know one word of sign language and why it’s “Beethoven.”

And you continue to hook me in the next paragraph, when I discover she’s a “mad cellist” and then you surprise me with the fact that she’s deaf.

What an interesting heroine you’ve created! Her matter-of-fact tone as she shares the challenges of Ravenswood high and her childhood, coupled with her fighting spirit, have me cheering for her from the beginning. And I loved your description – and her reaction – to the boys bathroom and Bobby Lundgren. Eeew. Who wouldn’t be insulted? 🙂

Great “world-building,” too. You’ve let me experience Tate’s musical world – her music, her musician friend, enemy, and hottie – as well a glimpse of what it’s like to be  deaf. My only wish is that, while Tate was playing, you’d let me feel a little of what she’s experiencing as she plays, what the music feels like to her, physically, if she can’t hear it.

Great job! I can’t wait to read on and see what happens with Jared!

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41 responses

3 03 2010
Vote NOW for the Winner « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Week 8 Finalist […]

3 03 2010

Cynthia, I like a good YA whenever the feeling hits me. I was totally hooked by this beginning I find myself wishing that I had the whole book in my hand. Great job! I wouldn’t change a thing. You have my vote!

3 03 2010
Leigh Michaels

Cynthia, your heroine is utterly fascinating — a deaf cellist, feeling rather than hearing the music she creates, is such a fresh approach that I’d read on just to find out more about how she discovered music and whether it was her choice or her parents’ wish. The admirable but imperfect heroine would make me pick up this book in a heartbeat!

3 03 2010

Great job! I actually really love a good YA book and I think this is a wonderful start. I can’t wait to read it!!! Congrats~

3 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

WOW! What a great way to brighten my thoroughly hectic, sick-child-throwing-up-in-the-car morning. LOL.

This is my first attempt at writing a YA book. The heroine came to me awhile back, and even though I kept insisting that I *don’t* write YA, she wouldn’t leave me alone. So, I figured I go ahead and write her book just for fun (and to shut her up!) 🙂

I guess this just goes to show that sometimes those ‘just for fun’ ideas can turn into something more!

Thanks, Rachelle & Leigh!

3 03 2010
Katrina Williams

Cynthia, it’s WONDERFUL. I love the Cheetos! Congrats. You totally deserved to win. Can’t wait to read the rest of it.

3 03 2010

What a beautiful heroine! I love YA and music and this a refreshing approach to vampires and paranormal, which I write but sometimes like to get away from. I would definitely buy this book. Much Kudos to you.

3 03 2010

I meant to say away from the paranormal 🙂

3 03 2010
Jeannie Lin

This opening was just so effortless. It was over too soon and I wanted to keep reading. This is definitely not just any YA set in any high school. Wonderful job.

It’s going to be a hard vote for the winner this year. So many wonderful finalists!

3 03 2010
Chase the Dream Finalist

[…] a way to brighten my crazy morning! I’m the last finalist in Rachelle Chase’s “Chase the Dream” […]

3 03 2010
Autumn Jordon

I haven’t read YA either, Loved this young moxie and would definitely want to read and share.

3 03 2010
Debbie Mumford

Beautifully done, Cynthia! I’m not only hooked, I’m totally *with* Tate. Can’t wait to read more.

3 03 2010
Liz Talley

Wow. I want to know more. And I love the description of the boy’s bathroom. Just wow.

4 03 2010

Loved this and so want to read more.

Well done!

4 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Thanks so much to everyone who has taken the time to comment on my opening. It’s much appreciated!

4 03 2010
Jennifer Lewis

Great opening, Cynthia. Original and compelling–hooked me in and I can’t wait to read more (and as you CP I anticipate doing that soon 😉


4 03 2010

Wonderful opening and your MC has me thoroughly intrigued – would definitely turn the page!

4 03 2010

What a stellar opening line. I immediately know the age, the setting and that the story will be about music and deafness. I even get a hint of the speaker’s personality. I don’t know how you could have written it any better. Congratulations.

5 03 2010
L.A. Mitchell

This feels like such a fresh YA, full of depth, but not necessarily angst. I’m glad you listened to your insistent character !! Loved it 🙂

5 03 2010

I’m finally getting to read these. Great job, Cynthia. Fresh and different and intriguing.

6 03 2010

This is hands-down the most compelling concept (the deaf cellist teen trying to win a scholarship because she loves music and wants to get out of Dodge) of the contest for me. I enjoyed several of the finalists’ contributions and several equal the writing skill, but the concept wins me over on this one!!! Who can’t relate to this heroine? I love the details of her not customarily not speaking but signing (why make it easy for the hearing?) and being able to “hear” things others can’t because of her lip reading skills. Like the inclusion of musical imagery, like that she punctuates her words with staccato bow work or her heart racing like an arpeggio. You packed so much into your brief selection. WTG!

6 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Wow, thanks again for all the super wonderful comments. I never dreamed this would receive such a fabulous response! It’s making me a little giddy. 🙂

6 03 2010


I’m not a YA, but I was captivated. I loved seeing her world through her eyes. And to give your heroine a handicap to deal with was a great idea. Your comment to Rachelle and Leigh was just as creative. I loved the way you described your morning. I hope you child is much better.

9 03 2010
Jesi O'Connell

Wow, effortless opening indeed! I also loved this and really want to read more. The music specifics really hooked me too. Great job, Cynthia.

11 03 2010
Laura Bradford

I like the hook quite a bit…there is a lot of excellent conflict fodder there. I think the voice is working and that is always the toughest element to get right in a YA so kudos to you for that. I am very curious how you are going to handle the romance elements in the story–I assume you are building up towards some boy-girl action–will he be learning sign, will she be speaking, how will they communicate etc? Overall, very nice job here. Solid writing and excellent attention to detail.

12 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Thank you, Laura for taking the time to read my entry! The communication issue is part of the conflict as they both start to see each other in a different light. Your comments are much appreciated!

12 03 2010
Theresa Stevens

Vivid and evocative details, an intriguing hook, and a clear goal for the character add up to a strong scene. The tone feels spot-on, and I would probably keep reading to learn more about how it will all unfold. I do wonder if it might be possible to temper the heroine’s sour attitude, though. I don’t mind that she’s sour, or even resentful at times, but I would relate to her better if other (more positive) facets of her character were also on display. But it’s not a big problem — her attitude makes her read like a real teen, after all. 🙂 Good luck!

12 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Thanks, Theresa. I’ll see what I can do to temper her attitude and hint at her positive character traits a little bit more. I appreciate the read through and the comments.

13 03 2010
Christine Witthohn, Agent

I LOVE imperfect characters!
FYI – I don’t consider the heroine being deaf to be one of her flaws. It’s more of a strength. Well done.

A deaf gal that plays the cello (tough instrument to play) is brilliant.
Like the humor and sass as well 🙂

YA is one of my favorite genres, so I read a lot of it.
I hope you are submitting this.

I wish you the very best of luck!

16 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Thanks so much, Christine! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my opening. I, too, love imperfect characters. 🙂

14 03 2010


Well hon, I can see what everyone is raving about, that was simply *amazing*. Love everything about it and I couldn’t take my eyes away! The main character pulls you in automatically and she doesn’t let you out of her grip, not once! Great job!


16 03 2010
Brenda Chin

I love the fact that you’ve dared to give your heroine a handicap. A big thing in YA literature is making the reader believe that the heroine (and by extension, the reader) can overcome anything. I guess my only concern is that the opening is so negative. Usually, with YA, we see a little more vulnerability in the characters – they might act proud and cocky on the outside, but inside, they’re aware of what they think is holding them back.

I was also a little concerned that I didn’t know where this story was going – there’s no obvious hook. But I think the author’s nailed the irreverent YA voice. Good work.

16 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Brenda, thanks so much for taking the time to read my opening. I sincerely appreciate the feedback, and will work on adding some vulnerability to Tate’s character right from the start. This is my first attempt at writing YA (something I never dreamed I’d have the voice for), so I’m still feeling the genre out a little bit. Thanks again!

16 03 2010
Esi Sogah

Hi Cynthia–I thought this was really great. You did a really good job of capturing the wildly fluctuation emotions of teenagers. The voice is spot-on and I liked Tate straight off. She’s smart, funny, and put together, but not one of those “Yes I have a disability but I am far too evolved to be stressed by it” characters that you sometimes see. She comes across as a real person will real doubts and strengths, and I think that’s the kind of thing teens want to see in the books they read. Great stuff.

Happy Writing!

17 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Esi, thank you so much for taking the time to read my opening. I appreciate your comments, and thrilled that you were able to relate to my heroine. Thanks again!

17 03 2010
Deb Werksman

I have to start by telling you that I’m not an expert on YA, but I’m concerned that your heroine here is a little hard to relate to. A deaf cellist? When’s the last time you met one? I think YA is about universality, not individuality. I had a hard time suspending disbelief. That said, the writing is quite solid, word choices very good, and you’re setting the plot in motion well.

17 03 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Deb, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I can definitely understand your concerns.

Here’s a link to an article from The Daily Mail (London, England) about a deaf cellist if anyone is interested:


I’m hoping if I keep the focus on Tate’s universal teen qualities versus her disability she will come across as a believable heroine.

I appreciate your time and thoughts! Thanks!

17 03 2010
Farrah Rochon

This was wonderful, Cynthia! You’ve got the very-hard-to-pen-down YA voice. I wish there was more. Great job!

18 03 2010

Farrah, I’m with you on wishing there was more!

19 03 2010

Hi Cynthia,
I just wanted to comment that despite the fact that I have never met a deaf cellist, I still feel that I can invest in the character. I don’t know, I think it would be really boring to only read books about people that are just like me! And I think teenagers, differently abled or not, still have the same struggles. What I see in your story is a gril with a crush on a boy, her struggles to fit in, her best friend troubles etc. and I think those things are totally relatable. I find her deafness to be just another thing about her that I hope will be a small facet of who she is and the story, and the fact that she plays the cello to be just another part of her character like any teen with a passion, whether it be music, or art, or sports or magic etc. I haven’t met a 400 pound girl molested by her father and pregnant with his babies, or a bomb squad technician in Iraq struggling with his humanity, but those stories touched millions and won oscars for their trouble. And that I haven’t walked in their shoes doesn’t mean I can’t root for them, or relate to some facet of their struggle. Kudos on choosing a heroine that is a little left of center and out of the norm. I can’t wait to read it!

24 03 2010
Vicki Bendau


I just want you to know that I loved your premise. It certainly is a challenge to make it work but I admire you for it. What an unusual character that promises a lot of conflict. I wish you well in your writing.


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