Books·The First Page

Grayscale by Anna Pan

Grayscale by Anna Pan is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge of 2022.

2022 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Anna Pan, 14, is a finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge 2022. (Submitted by Anna Pan)

Grayscale by Anna Pan is one of 13 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 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 will be selected by bestselling YA writer Sarah Raughley and be announced on May 31.

Pan, 14, a student from Richmond Hill High School in Richmond Hill, Ont., writes about pollution.


She peered at a reflection of her eyes. Blinked. Wondered what the consequences would be if she gouged them out.

Oh, she would bleed. That was for certain. But would the blood be vivid at last? Or would it be as dull as it always was?

She turned away from the mirror to gaze out of the window. A gray sky, lit by an orb of a lighter gray. Gray earth. A gray stream.

And not a plant in sight. Not any longer.

There was once a world with colour and life.

The air was clean, the water pure and the animals thriving.

There was once a world where humans did not yet evolve.

That world did not last.

There was smog and smoke and dust.

There was grit that settled into everything and everyone.

There remained drops of colour, faded though it was.

They were found within the eyes.

Eyes, the window to the soul.

The one human feature most difficult to change.

Rich brown, azure blue, even bright green and captivating hazel.

Eyes, the window to the soul. The one human feature most difficult to change.

Eyes were the best feature, the ones prized above all.

Perhaps in another world, she would have been considered pretty. Beautiful, even.

Perhaps in a world with colour, her gray eyes would have been her favourite feature.

But here? In this monochromatic world?

Her birth brought no colour to this planet.

Worthless, they claimed.

From young, they would aim to hurt.

When sharp words were not enough, they used sharp stones instead.

Blood, she realized, held a touch of colour.

The blood staining her body was pretty while it lasted.

Wouldn't the blood seeping from her eyes be even prettier?

She gathered her thoughts. Cast the mirror aside.

It mattered not what the colour of her irises were. At the very least, she had fully functional eyes. And without intentionally staring at a mirror, she would not see her own eyes at all.

No, it was not yet the time to go blind.

She still had plans to carry out.


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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