Books·The First Page

The Collector by Ashley Levine

The Collector by Ashley Levine is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge of 2022.

2022 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Ashley Levine, 14, is a finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge 2022. (Submitted by Ashley Levine)

The Collector by Ashley Levine is one of 13 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 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 will be selected by bestselling YA writer Sarah Raughley and be announced on May 31.

Levine, 14, a student at Donald A. Wilson Secondary School in Whitby, Ont., writes about the inaccessibility of basic necessities.


There are rumours of a man named the Collector. He's a demon, a fraud, a mad billionaire, a charitable saviour. The legend differs depending on who you ask, but everyone seems to agree on two things. He'll give you what you need most, and he always charges a hefty price.

The Collector isn't interested in money, though. He deals only in sentiments, in objects that are woven with the threads of raw emotion. To meet him, you must visit Goldfinch pond at exactly 2:37 on a cloudless night with your most precious possession. He'll give you what you need and then erase your memories of your belongings. You lose bits of your soul every time you bargain with him, until all you're left with is a fractured mind and an empty heart.

Everyone knows that you only visit him if you're utterly desperate.

Which, I suppose, we all are.

My throat scratches as I approach the pond. The Collector is just as unsettling as everyone says, with eyes the colour of sap and white, reptilian pupils. He wears a suit, spiked hair, and a smile dripping with mischief.

"Good evening," he greets. "What do you seek?"

"Water." My voice trembles as I speak. I've barely had a sip of it in the last few days. Prices have gone up for bottled water again, and it's impossible to find anything clean. "Five jugs, please."

Just sign here and I will become the rightful owner of your memories.

"And my payment?"

I hold out a journal filled with familiar cramped writing. I've read it nearly every day for the past few months. "It was my sister's," I mutter. "This is the only thing I have left of her."

He examines it, flipping through the pages. "Why, yes. This will do." He brings up a holographic contract. "Just sign here and I will become the rightful owner of your memories. You'll forget all about this journal. It's a kind fate, really. You won't even know it's missing."

I knew this would happen, but it doesn't make it any easier. For a second, I want to punch him, for stealing my memories, for forcing me to sell my soul to survive, for seeing the light in the darkness and sticking a price tag on it.

But I restrain myself, because if it weren't for him, I'd be dead.

He nods at the contract, and with gritted teeth, I press my finger against the hologram and sign.


About The First Page student writing challenge

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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