Cheryl Klein, children’s book editor (including of one of my favorites, Marcelo in the Real World), has written this excellent post on the pleasures and pitfalls of the first pages of novels. Go here. I always have my students in Fiction Writing for Young People study first pages and that very tricky balance of revealing enough to hook the reader, but not so much as to info dump or otherwise lose tension. Like Cheryl, I often present the beginning of The Hunger Games as a good example of how to do a first page— the first chapter, even— right.
If you teach fiction, I have a suggestion. I give my students a packet of first pages from different genres, authors, etc. No titles or authors are revealed. We discuss them and then vote on which book we’ll continue reading. I then distribute the first chapter or first few chapters (basically, the first 25 p). We talk about things like whether the first 25 p make good on the promises of the first page. And if not, if we’re ok with that (and why— or why not). We talk about the release of information, world-building, elements of character development (how critical, for example, is it that Katniss reaches for her sister in bed, and discovers she’s gone to sleep with their mother?), intrigue, etc. It’s a great exercise.
Curious about which books have won the votes in the past? Twilight (this when the books were big, but the movies weren’t out and my students, except a few, didn’t recognize the book), Jenny Downham’s Before I Die (what better first lines than “I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger”?), and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.