Books·The First Page

One Question by Bee Lang

One Question by Bee Lang is the winner of the 2023 First Page student writing challenge.

2023 winner: Grades 10 to 12 category

A teenage girl with pink hair and glasses looks into the camera.
Bee Lang is a finalist in the First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 10-12 category. (Submitted by Bee Lang)

One Question by Bee Lang is the winner of 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 were selected by bestselling YA writer Courtney Summers.

Lang, 17, a student at McNally High School in Edmonton, writes about transphobia and trans people being killed each year. 

Lang spoke to CBC Books about what it means being chosen as the winner of the First Page. 

"Honestly if someone had asked me a year ago what winning this would mean to me I wouldn't have said much. That it was an honour and that I was very grateful to be chosen. But this means so much more than that now. I wrote this piece because I was angry, felt hurt by the world, and most importantly terrified for my future," Lang said. 

I wrote this piece because I was angry, felt hurt by the world, and most importantly terrified for my future- Bee Lang

"I'm non-binary myself and I constantly feel anxious about this exact situation happening. Trans people have that happen to them way more often than most people might realize and it's not changing. Especially with these past few years and it is down right frightening being a trans person sometimes. And I wanted to show how real and tangible that fear is for people like me.

"Nothing could make me happier than the kind words Ms. Summers shared because she really did understand the message I was trying to convey. And I hope it makes her happy to know I am continuing the story and plan to write a novel in verse expanding on it." 

LISTEN | Bee Lang on Edmonton AM

We speak with 17 year-old Bee Lang about being one of the winners of The First Page contest. Their winning submission tackled the topic of transphobia.

one question.
spat as if letting it linger on
would take too long.
eight words.
accusing me of crimes that,
from the all too familiar gleam in his stormy eyes
carry soul shattering fines.
twenty-nine letters.
my short and squishy frame
collapses onto itself.
shoulders pressed firmly to the nap of
my silk smooth neck.
i stay very still willing the vision of
my body to disappear.
i don't want to play this roulette game.
dark eyes burn pits into my skin,
as he says his venomous question again.
What is a person like you doing here?
no-that's not right,
it was more like this:
What is a person like YOU doing HERE?
dark oak strands of hair fall into my face as i look down.
i refuse to give him the satisfaction
of hearing my terror filled,
gasping breaths.
my hands clutch the identity bracelet.
it's bright mint green and lilac colour,
a dead giveaway of being new.
today was the first time outside my cozy sheets and
comforting university halls that i'd worn it.
i hadn't brought my faded blue one with me today.
i take a short look up to see him again.
his eyes dance around my figure,
before landing on a core.
just above it rests a pin on the soft plush of my sweater.
they/them scrawled across it.
the quiet rage blooming in his eyes send shivers down each
vertebrae of my spine.
i want to cry
tears soaking into the fabric of my being.
feet moving without instruction backwards,
towards the only way of escape.
i go to scream but it catches in my throat.
body frozen like a child caught
with their hand in a cookie jar.
light flickering,
from the sliver of silver
peeking out from his pocket.
i then realize moments to late,
my desecrated fate.

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.

The winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — were 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 was 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.

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