No Choice by Juliana Narváez Gutierrez
2019 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category
No Choice by Juliana Narváez Gutierrez is one of 10 stories shortlisted for the The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 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. Nearly 2,000 students submitted their stories.
In No Choice, Gutierrez — a student at Centennial Regional High School in Greenfield Park, Que. — considers a futuristic world where emotion is manufactured and individuality is censored.
My sheets smell like bleach — not the most pleasant aroma to wake up to. I quickly rub my eyes and glance over at the clock at the foot of my bed. It reads 8:30 a.m.. I'm right on time.
Stepping into my slippers, I look at myself in the mirror opposite. As usual, my face looks as blank as my sheets; I still haven't chosen my personality for the day. I'm running out of capsules — I must remember to go shopping for more tomorrow.
I step into my bathroom, where my A.I. assistant greets me with a perfunctory "good morning." As I brush my teeth, my eyes wake up, and I see emotion in my reflection.
My assistant interrupts me. "The tooth-brushing period has ended." I spit out the toothpaste.
I make my way to my closet. As always, I pick out a grey ensemble, but my inner rebel kicks in and I throw on an orange cardigan. Technically, I'm not allowed to wear it. My work personality is, according to the label, "bland, hardworking and dissociative." But I do it anyway. It makes my day to bend the rules a little.
My parents always thought it was odd, how I would smile when I didn't have my Happy on, or cry when I didn't have my Sad on. They thought the Starter Pack they had been given was faulty, but they didn't say anything because the woman next door had the same problem and they swept her son, Frederick, away. I pretended not to realize, but from that forwards I acted like the capsules were doing their job.
My parents always thought it was odd, how I would smile when I didn't have my Happy on, or cry when I didn't have my Sad on.
They were thrilled.
I open the grey box, and my eyes fall upon ten personality pills nestled in cheap cotton. I knew I was running out; I only have five work ones. I sigh and quickly swallow.
Instantly, I feel heavier, and my head is filled with numbers and expense report details — but I am still me. I've never said it out loud; that word has been banned for years, and I'd get arrested for even thinking it if they knew.
I grab my purse and head outside. The air is stiff, as if with hairspray. I am lucky to have a transport station so close. Someone is already there. A man: hair matted, shirt wrinkled. His eyes are darting along the street, scared.
I'm positive it's Frederick.
CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2168. 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 YA author Kelley Armstrong, most known for her Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising series. The winner will be announced on CBC Books on March 11, 2020.
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.