Books·The First Page

Bailey by Leilei Lee Culham

Bailey by Leilei Lee Culham is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge.

2023 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

A portrait of a teenage girl with dark hair pulled to one side smiling into the camera.
Leilei Lee Culham is a finalist for the 2023 First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 7 to 9 category. (Submitted by Leilei Lee Culham)

Bailey by Leilei Lee Culham 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.

Lee Culham, 14, a student at EBUS Academy in Vanderhoof, B.C., writes about extreme beauty standards and the beauty industry.

The moment I step onto the crowded Mirrortrain, I'm affronted by the plastic smell of make-up and hairspray. The perfume of the desperate. You'd think after spending my whole life surrounded by people like this, I'd have gotten used to it, but it's not even been a minute since I got on the train, and I already want to hurl.

Trying to steady myself, I take a seat and catch sight of my reflection on the one-way mirrors this train is made of. Plump cheeks, olive skin and acne scars greet me. Nothing like the face True Beauty has designed for all of us unlucky enough to be turning 18 this year. Pin straight hair, hollow cheeks and porcelain skin are my future. It's no different than what they've done before but, according to my mother, it's one of their worst designs. I'd laugh, if I had someone to laugh with.

Bailey was the only person I could talk to about these things. We spent our whole childhoods making pinky promises that we'd never do the procedure. I stopped being that naïve a long time ago, but Bailey never did grow out of it. She thought that if you simply refused to get it done, they would listen. Like True Beauty would magically close after successfully running for half a century, because of the defiance of one girl when you needed two. You fool, why didn't you tell me? Now it's been a little over a year since her 18th birthday, since she "ran away." All these people lying through their teeth. Her parents, the police, everyone saying, "Oh yes, Bailey ran away! No, True Beauty definitely didn't have anything to do with this!"

Liars. But, unlike Bailey, I'm not so easily blinded by hope and pipe dreams. I know that if you want to take something down, you need to destroy it from within.

While the train doors smoothly slide open, I catch sight of my reflection once again. Looking myself over, I notice my name tag is crooked. As I fix it, I get a glimpse of the text printed above my name: "Intern of True Beauty." With a barely visible, satisfied smirk and one thought ringing through my head, I step off the Mirrortrain and breathe in the fresh, artificial air.

Bailey, I will show the world your true beauty. Pinky promise.

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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