Books

Chasing 1% by Caris Simmons

Caris Simmons, 17, 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

Caris Simmons, 17, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Caris Simmons)

Chasing 1% by Caris Simmons has won 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.

Simmons, 17, a student at Western Canada High School in Calgary, writes about the growing disparity between the upper and lower classes.


Before I grew into my blue-collar, my father would recall to me his days of early boyhood; days before "city" was synonymous with "hive." His recollection of vacant sidewalks and lively cities brought distance between us. I had adapted to the lingering malaise, whereas his assimilation into the suffocating swarm left him spiteful toward the world.

There wasn't much left of that spite. A hard-working and unrewarding life left him a shriveled shadow slumped over an old rust-coloured armchair in the corner of my small apartment. He became a vision; a man collapsing into himself. I could feel that gravity beginning to grow inside myself, with every ache and strain — "Grit" my father would call it.

I pushed his chair toward the window into the light of the neon billboards that spilled into the otherwise unlit room. The electricity of the cityscape bounced off of his crooked glasses, but a glaze over his look told me his eyes were unseeing.
The technological advertisements buzzed with colour and life. This life was a waste. The concrete jungle I lived in consisted of many hungry people crammed into many hungrier buildings. Over the tops of the buildings, the town, although dense, looked small. There were many others, like me, pouring half-out the window of their copy-and-paste studio apartment taking in the same tired view, each from a different angle.

There were many others, like me, pouring half-out the window of their copy-and-paste studio apartment taking in the same tired view, each from a different angle.

I had the best view. With a forced squint, you could see the blurred lights of the gated community on the horizon. In the distance, it looked like a fallen star caught by the mountains, creating a heavy contrast against a night dampened by light pollution.

I looked back to my dad, whose mouth was agape and eyes were now shut. His glasses, heavy on his skeletal face, slipped down his nose. I pushed them up in case he would wake. He would not. Not tonight, anyway.

"Give it some time," I pulled a cigarette out of my pocket, lit it, and held it out in my hand. I let the smoke swirl into the night sky and catch the vibrant lights; my own little luxury.

"That's where I'll be."


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 — were 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 winners were announced on CBC Books on April 13, 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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