Still Water by Victor Li
2022 winner: Grades 10 to 12 category
Still Water by Victor Li has won The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 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. More than 1,800 students submitted their stories.
Li, 15, a student from The Woodlands Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., writes about the effects of pollution on our lakes and oceans.
When we were kids, June and I used to go down to the shore and skip rocks. You have to let them dry out on the concrete before throwing them so that the chemicals don't eat at your hands. My best was eight. June's was 10, but only because of a lucky throw.
The skill came from dodging all the trash on the surface. Flocks of plastic bags, swarms of bottles, all atop a layer of brown and green scum, like a second skin stretched thin over the entire lake. When the stones cut through the water, they revealed the murky blue underneath — but only for a second, before the scum pooled over it again like it was never there.
The lake was somehow dangerously mesmerizing, in how the waves beat against the rocks in perfect rhythm, how the water on the horizon seemed untouched by all of the garbage. I wanted to crawl through all of the acid and plastic just so that I could reach that perfect blue, to lay in it and forget the smell of rotted wood and sewage. June did too. When we got tired, we'd escape into that fantasy until something or someone snapped us back awake. Our parents worked all day in the purification plants, so we were left to daydream until nightfall sometimes. It was too easy to get swallowed by it.
Conversations always end when your mouth starts to dry up. That's proper etiquette, Mom always said.
"Do you think there's still fish down there?" Five skips. His stone got caught on a piece of driftwood.
"What kind?" Three skips only.
"Like those weird eels or anglerfish at the bottom of the ocean. Something that could survive all of this."
"Like a fish that eats garbage?"
"Yeah! Something like that. They could clean everything up for us. Do you think a fish that eats garbage tastes good?"
"I'd hope so."
The more you talk, the more your throat hurts, so we'd sign whenever possible and ration our water bottles carefully. Conversations always end when your mouth starts to dry up. That's proper etiquette, Mom always said. If you did everything right, it lasts just long enough until the next weekly refill.
June stopped coming as often after that day. Had to start working to support the family, he said. Whenever he did pop up, his hands would always reek of chlorine, quietly shaking when he lined up his throw. After a year, he could barely get three skips.
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 — were 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 Flames, Siege of Shadows and Legacy of Light — and the fantasy historical novel The Bones of Ruin, for ages 14 and up.
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, Orca Books, Groundwood Books and Simon & Schuster for donating books for the prize.