Books·The First Page

416 by Emily Yan

416 by Emily Yan is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge.

2023 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

A portrait of a teenage girl with black hair and glasses looking into the camera.
Emily Yan is a finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category of the 2023 First Page Student Writing Challenge. (Submitted by Emily Yan)

416 by Emily Yan is one of 11 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 category for 2023.

Students across Canada wrote the first page of a novel set 150 years in the future, imagining how a current-day trend or issue has played out. More than 1,200 students submitted their stories.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada. The winners will be selected by bestselling YA writer Courtney Summers and be announced on May 31.

Yan, 13, a student at St. John Henry Newman School in Calgary, writes about the increasing rates of child labour.

Merciless, earsplitting blaring of horns jolted us out of our little hours of slumber. Was it time already? The rustling of my roommates reminded me that if I didn't get up now, I would be late. We should arrive at 6 a.m. sharp. They don't tolerate tardiness. The ever-present hum of electricity accompanied me as I slid into my tattered and stained work clothes. We stood in an orderly line, waiting for the adults to open the doors. The start of the same exhausting schedule.

On the way in, we are each handed a chunk of rotting, stale bread and a drink of water from the bucket. I don't remember anything outside of this building. The building is my home, the industry is my family, Adult is my guardian. Occasionally, there were rumours spread about the outside world. Of course, they were immediately shut down by Adult, though I've heard some pretty absurd stories.

Boy 37 once said there used to be something called a school. He said that kids would go there to learn, play and make friends. They would get to do fun things like tell stories, learn new things and even play outside. Adult gave him a year of implant testing. He collapsed and died after a week. He wasn't the only one, many of us are worked to death here in the confinement of this building. We're not allowed to talk to each other during work and just barely during rest time. A hard smack from Adult brought me back to reality. I didn't even realize it was my turn.

I picked a piece of paper from the basket, praying it wasn't implant testing. I sighed in relief at the sight of the smudged picture of a drone. I had an easy job today, bomb drone assembling. I walked on, flinching at the sound of my roommate's wailing after getting implant testing. Time for work. I sighed as I saw the same sight of stations of children working tirelessly to reach the required amount. I've been seeing the same sight for eight years. We fight for our lives everyday. We exist only to work.

I brushed my hand on the numbers etched into the stone next to my station. "416" it read.

When I was four, for 16 dollars. That's when I came here.

About The First Page student writing challenge

A cartoon astronaut with a laser sword bursting out of a book and flying through space with her cat.
The First Page student writing challenge asks students in Grades 7 to 12 to write the first page of a novel from 150 years in the future. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2173. They wrote the first page of a book set 150 years in the future, with the protagonist facing an issue that's topical today and set the scene for how it's all playing out in a century and a half.

Two winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — will be chosen by bestselling author Courtney Summers. 

Summers has won numerous awards, including the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult literature, the 2019 Odyssey Award and the 2020 Forest of Reading White Pine Award. Her 2021 book The Project won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Young Adult novel.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada:

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on May 31, 2023.

Both winners will receive a one-year subscription to OwlCrate, which sends fresh boxes of books to young readers across Canada on a monthly basis. In addition, each of the winners' schools will receive 50 free YA books.

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