Books

Above the Orange River by Cole Petersen

Cole Petersen, 18, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2020 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Cole Petersen, 18, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Cole Peterson)

Above the Orange River by Cole Petersen is one of 10 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 category.

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 2,000 students submitted their stories.

Petersen, 18, a student at Alcuin College in North Vancouver, writes about climate change, and traditionalism. 


The cold breeze sweeping through the trees pushed up into Paul's khaki jacket, threatening to chill his arms, as it ruffled the dirt stained sleeves. He had been trekking through the bush since he was a young lad, and never did he expect to see snow piles lining the Baobab trees, and cresting the hills as far as he could see. Despite these sights, he continued to trudge forward.

Without much thought, robotically, he climbed the ridge in front of him. As he climbed, the dust kicked up from the dry ground, staining his leather boots and the bottom of his pants. Paul's feet landed with a crunch into a hardened bank of snow. Taking a second to catch his breath, he looked out upon the dry veldt thinly layered with white snow. There were once clear lakes; now the lakes contain a glazing of ice on the surface. Where there was once grass, there is now frozen ground and snow laden bush, and where there was once Springbok, there was now nothing.

Where there was once grass, there is now frozen ground and snow laden bush, and where there was once Springbok, there was now nothing.

His FAL weighed heavily on his back, as the leather strap ground further into his shoulder. The veldt stretched before him, its red ground almost seeming ominous, and its sanguine colour melted up into the white snow dusting it. All that lay ahead were rocks and dry riverbeds, up until the line of trees and brush which marked what Paul had come to consider home. He continued his march home through the valleys and up to the tree line, not looking up until he reached the forested grove. Making his way through the thickets and trees he marched until he saw the entrance of the commune. It was guarded by a familiar red, white and orange striped flag hanging from a tree, signaling he had arrived.

The outskirts of the clearing was littered with tents and their inhabitants. The air smelt of snuffed fires, whose smoke could clearly still be seen in the air. Despite the thin layer of snow that layered the ground, the air seemed less cold in the camp. "Perhaps it's kept warm by the love of that old flag or perhaps it is by Nomhoyi, as Decan so often claims" thought Paul, humouring himself. Paul could tell from how the people huddled that something was wrong; he knew they were selected for the land acquisition, putting them at the front of the war.


About The First Page student writing challenge

David A. Robertson is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning author and judge of the 2020 First Page student writing challenge. (Amber Green)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2170. 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 award-winning author David A. Robertson

Robertson is a Cree writer from Winnipeg who writes books for readers of all ages — including the Governor General's Literary Award-winning picture book, When We Were Alone and the Reckoner Rises graphic novel series.

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on April 16, 2021.

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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