Fugees by Joshua Zhuang
2022 winner: Grades 7 to 9 category
Fugees by Joshua Zhuang has won The 2022 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. More than 1,800 students submitted their stories.
Zhuang, 15, a student from Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto, writes about refugees and nationalism.
It's three in the morning when they come for me: they do it under the cover of darkness. They always do.
I jolt awake in my bed, gasping for air, heart ramming against my chest as the electronic blaring of sirens and the pounding of fists against wood swirl through my head. Before my feet can even touch the concrete floor, Aunt Anita is already barging through the doorway and into the pathetic tomb of a room that I call home.
"Get your stuff," she says, eyes wide in a mix of panic, surprise, and utter terror. It's a look I know all too well. "Hurry!"
She doesn't have to tell me twice. I shake the last embers of sleep from my head and get going, shoving everything of mine I can get my hands on into a bulging suitcase that's always reminded me of the Movers who brought me here — cheap cologne and musky aftershave with a twinge of cigarettes and bleach.
It's the only thing that ever brings back memories of Mother.
"Five years," Aunt Anita mutters, throwing a few slices of crusty sawdust bread into a bag. "Five years in New Toronto, bouncing from aunt to uncle to cousin to some long-lost relative 50 km away. You're as Canadian as me, for God's sake, and yet they decide to come for the umpteenth time and try and drag you off to some resettlement centre all over again. What would your mother have thought of all this?"
Fugee. That's the word they use for us, those who weren't fortunate enough to be born here.
Outside the window, haphazardly covered with a random mess of wooden planks and duct tape, the sirens grow louder and louder until they feel like they're about to swallow me whole. "State Security!" a voice spits from outside the front door. "We know you're there, you filthy Fugee!"
Fugee. That's the word they use for us, those who weren't fortunate enough to be born here. Fugee: fugitive. Refugee. I bet whoever thought of that one had a good laugh.
Stumbling onto the fire escape, bags in hand, I rest my eyes for just a second. It's okay. I know the drill. But suddenly I'm back in the rickety rowboat, Mother's arms wrapped around me. Lightning and thunder. The roaring wind.
An ear-piercing scream cut short by a crack shatters my thoughts. I look back.
Aunt Anita convulses on the floor, a man towering over her shaking frame.
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 — were 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 Flames, Siege of Shadows and Legacy of Light — and the fantasy historical novel The Bones of Ruin, for ages 14 and up.
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, Orca Books, Groundwood Books and Simon & Schuster for donating books for the prize.