Books·The First Page

A Modern Failing Romance by Vivian Zhi

A Modern Failing Romance by Vivian Zhi is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge of 2022.

2022 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Vivian Zhi, 17, is a finalist in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Vivian Zhi)

A Modern Failing Romance by Vivian Zhi is one of 11 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 category for 2022.

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 1,800 students submitted their stories.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada. The winners, to be selected by bestselling YA writer Sarah Raughley, will be announced on May 31.

Zhi, 17, a student from St. Robert Catholic High School in Thornhill, Ont., writes about how the development of artificial intelligence may blur the lines between humanity and robotics.


Cassey breaks up with me while we're watching a rerun of The Bachelor. She delivers the news casually, as if setting up a joke. It takes me a second to realize that I am the punchline.

In the silence, a passionate "But I love you!" comes from the woman on TV. The man puts on a regretful expression and delivers his condolences. Cool as steel, robotic in motion.

Cassey waves her hand across the TV monitor, and it shuts down. She studies my face, her eyebrows scrunching with concern. "Babe? You okay?"

My voice scraps against my throat. "Why?"

"I've been feeling this way for a while, and…we're just not compatible anymore."

"Why?"

"Why?" She unleashes all her hurt into that word. "Because you think I'm disposable, like all your past lovers. Because you always expect me to take care of you, while you're never there for me. And you know what? I don't think you're human. Because how could any real being act like you?"

Our pet Roomba, who's been sitting just outside our living room, whimpers as if struck.

Cassey gets up from the couch to shoo it away before sitting back down, keeping a measured distance away from me.

Cassey breaks up with me while we're watching a rerun of The Bachelor. She delivers the news casually, as if setting up a joke. It takes me a second to realize that I am the punchline.

"I'm sorry," she whispers finally. "I've never acted out or yelled back before. I wasn't even aware that I could do that. I think…I think I might be broken."

"No, I broke you." I lie back and close my eyes. "Like I've broken everyone else before you."

"That's not true." We both know that's a lie. "Will you be okay on your own?"

"Yeah."

That's another lie.

She pulls me into her arms, the scent of fresh laundry wafting over me in a cruel embrace. "Ask the manufacturers to send over the newest model, okay? Less defects in that one." I nod, digging my chin into her shoulder.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out."

"Me too." That, at least, is true.

Guided by muscle memory, I find the button behind the right ear and hold down on it. I count down from five. Time exhales in finality.

"Ba-be-be-b-b—"

With a metallic stutter, her speech shuts down and her eyes flash neon green before darkening. I rest my head on her cooling shoulder. The hollow silence of my plastic heart expands to fill the room. I don't cry.

I don't think I know how to be human at all.


About The First Page student writing challenge

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 2172. 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 Sarah Raughley. 

A writer and lecturer from Southern Ontario, Raughley is the author of the YA Effigies series — which includes Fate of FlamesSiege of Shadows and Legacy of Light — and the fantasy novel The Bones of Ruin for ages 14 and up.

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

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on May 31, 2022.

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. Special thanks to Penguin Random House, Raincoast Books, Scholastic Canada, Annick Press, KidsCan Press, Groundwood Books, Orca Books and Simon & Schuster for donating books for the prize.

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