Books·The First Page

Bottom Feeders by Victor Li

Bottom Feeders by Victor Li is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge of 2022.

2022 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Victor Li, 15, has won The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 category. (Submitted by Victor Li)

Bottom Feeders by Victor Li 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.

Li, 15, a student from The Woodlands Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., writes about rising sea levels and how they will affect coastal cities.


"Remember what you're looking for. Gold, lithium, silicon." The boat lurches forward as she brings it to a standstill in the middle of the street, cutting through the foot-thick layer of driftwood and acid on the surface. Somewhere underneath is supposed to be water. "Ten minutes on the tank. This house looks good." Deep breath in, then out. I plunge into the dark.

The oxygen tastes bitter and metallic, every breath stinging my lungs. But I can't stop now. My flashlight illuminates the living room I crawl into, where the water has stripped away everything except for plastic shells and an empty couch frame. A cracked toy robot on the ground looks promising. Nine minutes left.

Rot and mould climb up the stairs, extending their skinny fingers to the ceiling. They're so hungry, the way they eat at the drywall and wooden frames until all is laid bare, the way they try to seep into my wetsuit and swallow me too. My head barely peaks above the water upstairs, but only to stare at a dotted black ceiling writhing with infection. It takes some time, but I dig the smoke detector out of its socket above me in the hallway. Eight minutes left.

Rot and mould climb up the stairs, extending their skinny fingers to the ceiling.

Every door is rusted shut except the one on the right. A corroded alarm clock sits faithfully beside the diseased bed frame, along with a broken camera. Empty plastic and metal photo frames float to the top. Inside the closet is a chest full of toys — superheroes, stuffed animals, walkie-talkies — all tattered but still salvageable. Seven minutes left.

There's another box off to the side, with duct tape clinging on the lid and holes cut out along the top. The unscathed golden name tag inside is still readable. Lawliet. Lawliet's owners decide if I sleep in a warm bed tonight. It glimmers as gold should, but it's impossible to tell if it's real or fake.

The stained bedroom window cracks open with effort, letting me slip out of that world and back into the surface. The scum pools over my tracks like I was never there. "Good dive?"

I gasp for fresh air, but it doesn't taste better than the tank. I have to wait for my head to stop pounding before I can even think. "I think we'll break even."

"You made good time." Six minutes left now. "Come on, next house. This one feels more promising."


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 historical novel The Bones of Ruinfor 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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