Books

Happy Rebirthday by Jessie Chen

Jessie Chen, 15, 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

Jessie Chen, 15, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Jessie Chen)

Happy Rebirthday by Jessie Chen is one of 10 stories shortlisted for 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.

Chen, 15, a student at University of Toronto Schools in Toronto, writes about omniscient artificial intelligence. 


She should be arriving soon, the Firstborn assured her.

"Lia! Over here!" Rose waved as her best friend ran toward her, a smile spreading across her face. "Happy Rebirthday!"

They hugged. "Can you believe I'm 16?" Lia laughed. "People say your Rebirth makes you super mature."

Rose nodded. "Most people choose boring Rebirths, like by electric chair or knife. I think skydiving was the best choice."

Initiate Rebirthing? The Firstborn prompted.

Lia took a deep breath. "I'm ready."

Drones escorted them to an atrium with skydiving gear. Rose's hands fumbled with the suit's buttons. "I'm coming!"

She cursed internally. There was nothing to be worried about — the Firstborn always fully revived people.

After dressing, they climbed into the helicopter and ascended into the skies. When it was time to jump, Rose hesitated.

"You go first," Rose urged. "I'll be right behind you."

"See you later!" Lia beamed. She turned and leapt out of the helicopter, screaming in delight as the wind enveloped her.

Rose forced herself to inch closer and closer to the edge. Squeezing her eyes shut, she leaned out the helicopter and yelped as the feeling of weightlessness took over. Panicked, she pulled the parachute, unable to stand the bottoming pit in her stomach.

It's fine, she assured herself. The Firstborn will revive her and soon she'll be her old cheery self.

When she landed minutes later, Lia's remains had already been taken away to the Firstborn. Rose's hands shook at the sight of the crimson red stains decorating the concrete. It's fine, she assured herself. The Firstborn will revive her and soon she'll be her old cheery self.

"Firstborn, take me to the bakery then the hospital," Rose commanded.

Silence.

"Firstborn?" Rose repeated.

Whatever. She could walk there anyway.

After buying Lia's favourite strawberry cake, Rose stepped into the hospital, the stinging disinfectant filling her lungs. She sat down, anxious for her best friend to come out whole again.

"Firstborn, how long will it take?" She asked aloud.

She knitted her eyebrows — the Firstborn was silent. Rose stood up, put the cake down, and walked to the receptionist.

"Hi, do you know when the Firstborn will finish reviving Lia?" She asked.

The receptionist blanched. She stared at her computer, begging it to turn on. She furiously clicked her mouse and tapped at her keyboard to no avail. Finally, she looked up at Rose with a blank stare.

"Your friend won't be revived."

Rose stared at her, unwilling to comprehend.

"The Firstborn is dead."


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 — will be 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 winner will be announced on CBC Books on April 16, 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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