The eyes of a child is a great focal point for this piece-- it lets the world expand and be explained in wonder and horror at what's going on. I love the opportunities for emotion this piece has. When the mother burns the religious paraphernalia and when they are shuffled into the basement lead up wonderfully to the moment the soldiers knock at the door.
I do think the voice needs a little clean up. The first line is "God died tonight, so Mama said I ain't gotta pray" is very distinctive, and not exactly replicated throughout. I think this is the stem of most of the other problems in the piece; once you're set and you know the narrative voice the rest usually falls into place. As it is, the voice wavers a bit and flips between a close and a distant first person. A close first person gives the impression of being in the moment. If narrator is surprised, that comes through to the readers. As the narrator feels and interprets the world around them, they record it in the past tense. A more distant first person gives the impression of time having elapsed before the narrator chooses to tell the story. They have room to meditate on their feelings and reflect on their actions as the reader encounters them. Both are distinctive and offer different things to a piece. This one would do well to sit strongly in either.
One other thing that would help this piece along would be to give a face to the antagonists. Choose who they are, know what they want, why they are doing what they're doing and how they plan to achieve it. Even if almost none of this makes it into the piece, their actions will be more directed and much sharper. The chance to make them terrifying or just an object of any emotion is much greater, because the narrator can have more to say about something that isn't generic. With an actual face they can be known by the reader, even if the narrator does not fully understand what is going on.
Overall this piece is really good, and I would be excited to see it in another incarnation! Good work and keep writing!
Ugh, one of the reasons I choose to stay in third-person. This piece just wouldn't have the same impact though. As with most other things, first-person usually plucks a bit more heartstrings but is a difficult style to master. I've only written this style one time before, a couple months ago. Need to learn though...
Thank you for the fair critique and the tip. I'll be sure to look out for close/distant mix-ups. Any tips on giving the main character a face without zoning out into third person for a little while? I can see now how I could have given Mama or someone a little touch-up, but can't see how I would do the same for poor Andrew.
Like most writing, first person just takes a little practice and feeling out. It is a different beast than third person for sure.
I'm not sure it's the main character that needs a face, but the antagonists. The bad guys being generalized is a hit on my willingness to suspend disbelief, mostly because I actually can't picture them. What are their uniforms like, what nationality are they, what does their language sound like? Who they are will dictate how they attack and with what. This might be the place to let slip that it's alternate-earth or alternate history/not modern time period, too, if it does take place in a different world/time.
Thank you for being so gracious in your reply!