Books·The First Page

His and Hers by Audrey Gao

His and Hers by Audrey Gao is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge.

2023 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

A portrait of a teenage girl with black hair and clear-framed glasses looking up into the camera.
Audrey Gao is a finalist in the 2023 First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 10 to 12 category. (Submitted by Audrey Gao)

His and Hers by Audrey Gao is one of 11 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 category for 2023.

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 1,200 students submitted their stories.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada. The winners will be selected by bestselling YA writer Courtney Summers and be announced on May 31.

Gao, 16, a student at Lord Byng Secondary School in Vancouver, writes about banned abortion and domestic abuse.

The girl first came here two days ago.

Upon first glance, she had looked more dead than alive — her yellow hair was so matted and tangled that it had looked more like stray wisps poking out from dusty bales of hay than the spun gold it would have resembled, had she been in a better state, and tired creases and folds nestled their way into her forehead. The only spots of colour that adorned her pallid complexion were ugly splotches of periwinkle littered across her face, spilling onto her neck and down into her chest. And yet, despite her pitiable state, the girl turned her nose up to the heavens as she entered my shop, perhaps flaunting the last remnants of dignity she had managed to save before her world had crumbled.

With furtive eyes, she surveyed her surroundings. The sun shone its rays freely through the shoddily constructed tent I had set up only recently, and a trinket on her finger glinted in the light. At first, I had been sympathetic — the poor girl was probably going to offer her family heirloom as payment, only to find out that it was worth next to nothing. But as the girl sidled up to the counter, my friendly smile morphed into a grimace. There were many gold rings, yes, in the country, but the silver ring? That metal was only reserved for His Wife.

Upon closer inspection, the girl was unmistakably His Wife, and I chided myself for not realising earlier. Despite her ragged appearance, under the layers of grime and dirt she was covered in, she was still pretty, definitely pretty enough to be His Wife.

But I was brave, because I had an advantage. As far as I knew, I was the only pharmacist in the country who had not yet been executed, and His Wife could not expose me without ruining her own chances of obtaining forbidden drugs. My eyes once again darted to her hand, which was now clamping down on her stomach, and slowly, I pulled my lips into a grin.

"Miss? Could you perhaps be here for antidepressants? Analgesics? Barbiturates, maybe?" I drummed my nails on the counter, drawling out each individual word.

His Wife shoved her other hand into her pocket, retrieving a fat wad of cash. Begrudgingly, she spoke, a slight tremor shaking her voice.

"Mifepristone. I… I need it. I'm pregnant."

About The First Page student writing challenge

A cartoon astronaut with a laser sword bursting out of a book and flying through space with her cat.
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 2173. 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 Courtney Summers. 

Summers has won numerous awards, including the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult literature, the 2019 Odyssey Award and the 2020 Forest of Reading White Pine Award. Her 2021 book The Project won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Young Adult novel.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada:

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on May 31, 2023.

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.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now