Books·The First Page

Joshua Zhuang and Victor Li win The First Page student writing challenge

CBC Books asked Grades 7 to 12 students to write the first page of a novel, set 150 years in the future, imagining how current affairs events and trends have played out.

CBC Books asked Canadian students to imagine how present-day trends have played out in the year 2172

Ontario students Joshua Zhuang, left, and Victor Li are the 2022 winners of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Joshua Zhuang and Victor Li)

Toronto's Joshua Zhuang, 15, and Mississauga, Ont.'s Victor Li, 15, have won The 2022 First Page student writing challenge, a national speculative fiction writing competition for Grades 7 to 12 students in Canada.

CBC Books asked Canadian students to imagine how present-day trends and issues — from climate change to artificial intelligence and factory farming — have played out in the year 2172.

The 21 finalists and two eventual winners were chosen from over 1,800 entries submitted in the winter of 2022 — 1,309 entries were collected from the Grades 7 to 9 category and 530 entries from the Grades 10 to 12 category. 

Sarah Raughley is a bestselling Canadian YA author. (Melanie Gillis)

Bestselling YA writer Sarah Raughley selected the winners from two shortlists curated by a team of writers across Canada

Joshua Zhuang is a student at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto in the Grades 7 to 9 category. His story, Fugees, is about refugees and nationalism.

"I never would've thought I'd win, but here we are. This is such a huge honour for me. All those days spent racking my head for good ideas were worth it!" Zhuang told CBC Books.

"This in media res beginning explodes with tension from the first word, drawing the reader in immediately," said Raughley. 

"We're introduced to characters and their dilemma from the start. With only a few words, the author not only strongly conveys the conflict but also adeptly builds an emotional connection between the characters and readers, forcing us into the characters' shoes as we attempt an escape along with them.

This is a story that forces us to think critically about immigration and displacement- Sarah Raughley

"Most importantly, while the escape attempt does not go as planned, we're left knowing that the plot is far from over. This is a story that forces us to think critically about immigration and displacement. Who does Canada's dominant society consider to be 'Canadian' and worthy of the full gamut of rights as citizens? And who do we criminalize as 'Other'?" 

Victor Li is a student at The Woodlands Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont. in the Grades 10 to 12 category. His story, Still Water, imagines a futuristic world which shows the effects of pollution on our lakes and oceans.

"Lakes and bodies of water have always been a place of peace for me, and the emotional core of this piece is grounded in that idea. I think that despite whatever happens in the future, people will still try to find solace in whatever nature exists. The image of two kids playing alone in a lake of garbage pushes this concept into a tangible scene, and is what I think makes this story interesting. " Li told CBC Books.

"With clear and clean writing, the author introduces us to the beginnings of a coming-of-age story in a world that's suffered an environmental collapse," said Raughley.

"Evocative language and smart dialogue paint a picture of the cost of climate change on our planet's sources of water. Once luscious lakes have been transformed into toxic landfills. The innocence of the protagonists' voices, still young as they wonder if fish that eat garbage is edible, drives home the price children will pay for the older generation's mistakes. With poetic flare, the author leaves the door open for a much larger story of self-discovery."

Evocative language and smart dialogue paint a picture of the cost of climate change on our planet's sources of water.- Sarah Raughley

Both winners will receive one year of OwlCrate, a monthly book subscription service, and 50 books for each of their school libraries. 

Special thanks to publishers Penguin Random House, Raincoast Books, Scholastic Canada, Annick Press, KidsCan Press, Groundwood Books, Orca Books and Simon & Schuster for donating books for the prize.

You can read both the winning stories, as well as all the finalists, below.

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)

Grades 7 to 9 category finalists

Grades 10 to 12 category finalists

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