Books·The First Page

Milk by Lillian Snell

Milk by Lillian Snell is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge of 2022.

2022 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Lillian Snell, 17, is a finalist in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Lillian Snell)

Milk by Lillian Snell is one of 11 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 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, to be selected by bestselling YA writer Sarah Raughley, will be announced on May 31.

Snell, 17, a student from Rosedale Heights School of the Arts in Toronto, writes about overconsumption, class divide, GMOs and species extinction.

The day before Mother was stolen, I went to see her for the first time. People pushed from every angle to reach the doors, moving in a single mass like a school of fish. I was pinned between the ceiling-high window and the weight of the crowd. I resigned to staring down at the gray earth below; piles of garbage plagued the ground like boils and rivers of black cut through the landscape like varicose veins. Armored vehicles scuttled around like bugs, stopping to take bites out of the earth and chew it in their metal jaws.

On other History trips, bored and balding men fed us fun facts about shoe brands and something called "tap water" in monotonous drones. None made me excited like our trip to see Mother. After what felt like a Millenium, there was an opening big enough to force my way into the exhibition room. Other students paid no attention, joking loudly, but I couldn't look away.

Mother stood on a platform surrounded by glass, supported by a harness with holes for her legs. Black tubes protruded from every part of her body, and translucent plastic ones attached to each udder with metal clamps, pumping white liquid up and into a hole in the ceiling. "Standing before you is Mother, a magnificent Holstein, and the last living cow on Earth," a worker recited mechanically.

At least twice my height, her skin seemed to be stuffed with more innards than possible.

I stood right in front of her, but she didn't seem to see me. Her eyes, bloodshot and bulging, flitted between two spots on the ceiling. At least twice my height, her skin seemed to be stuffed with more innards than possible. Her legs, however, were stick-thin; knobbly knees and sharp bones pushed against patterned fur. I felt a strange urge to reach out and touch her.

Past her bloated body, movement caught my eye in the window of a door labeled, Tasting Room. Mrs. taught us that the elite fly from all around the world for cream puffs, tiramisu, and French lattés infused with what many had coined Mother's "elixir of life," a rare commodity that sold for a million dollars a carton. Flashes of gold and silver hung from hairdos and manicured fingers. People in colourful makeup and structured blouses passed doll-sized dishes, laughing airily. A tall woman slipped something shiny from the marble countertop into her pocket. Our eyes met for a moment before she quickly turned away.

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 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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