Books·The First Page

Focus by Evangeline Dorval

Evangeline Dorval, 14, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2018 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Evangeline Dorval, 14, is a 2018 finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category for The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Evangeline Dorval)

Focus by Evangeline Dorval is one of 10 stories shortlisted for the The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 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. Nearly 2,400 students submitted their stories.

Dorval, a student at Blessed Cardinal Newman School in Calgary, Alta., tackles the replacement of human workers with robots in Focus.

I was 16 when I took the pill. 
I know what you're thinking. No, not 'the pill.' I'm not talking about birth control. 
Well, okay. That too. But that's irrelevant. 
God. Okay. Let's start from the beginning. 

I was a normal kid for all of 15 years. I did what any other 'rebellious teen' did: sneaked candy behind my parents' back, went to parties at midnight when the district was asleep, explored my dad's lab when nobody was home, taking in the bitter smell of chemicals and the flashes of light in colours I'd never seen.

Alright, the latter isn't so ordinary. That's the point. After discovering my dad's secret 'project', my life turned upside-down. 

"Fine," "yes," "pass the butter," and "goodnight" were oftentimes the only words my dad uttered before retiring for the evening, much earlier than the rest of us. I thought, as one would think, that he went to bed after dinner. At 13, I began questioning everything.

Mustering up courage, I quietly followed him upstairs, suspicious as to what really occurred when he vanished at six every night and didn't appear until morning. I recall clearly the exact moment my eyes fell upon his elaborate laboratory, the steaming pots and dripping liquids and humming machines. The whole room emitted music; a cacophony of humming, clanging, and —

Ringing. My ears were ringing. It all made sense.

My dad was developing a pill, I later discovered, after deciphering stacks of messy notes and blueprints when home alone. If you consumed said pill, your brain could hyperfocus. You might be thinking, Yeah, ho hum. Adderall already exists, genius. No. Swallowing this capsule allows you to work for days on end. Weeks, even. No sleep or breaks needed. His motive? Since the humanoid worker boom, millions of citizens had lost their jobs and been replaced by robots. My dad, one of the last human accountants, would be next. However, if he worked constantly in an inhuman way, he could keep his job. Every adult on the planet yearned for an occupation after watching their careerless peers descend into poverty. I was enthralled. This is revolutionary.

Now, as a 16 year old who frankly didn't give a damn, I couldn't resist trying this pill. I had a math exam coming up; I could use the assistance. Taking a gulp of water, I felt it slide down my throat

Listen to Evangeline Dorval on Calgary Eyeopener

Calgary, Alta. student Evangeline Dorval made the 2018 shortlist for The First Page student writing challenge, which invited Grades 7 to 12 students to write the first page of a novel imagining what the world would looks like in 150 years.

About The First Page student writing challenge

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2168. 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 YA writer Cherie Dimaline, author of The Marrow Thieves. The winner will be announced on CBC Books on Feb. 22, 2019.

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 YA books.

CBC Books's next writing competition for students is the Shakespeare Selfie student writing challenge, which will open in April 2019.