Books·The First Page

The Hidden Painting by Jessica Yang

The Hidden Painting by Jessica Yang is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge.

2023 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

A portrait of a teenage girl with black hair and a white t-shirt smiling at the camera with a lake in the background.
Jessica Yang is a finalist for the 2023 First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 7 to 9 category. (Submitted by Jessica Yang)

The Hidden Painting by Jessica Yang is one of 11 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 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 will be selected by bestselling YA writer Courtney Summers and be announced on May 31.

Yang, 14, a student at St. Clement's School in Toronto, writes about forbidden art, censorship, secrets in repressive societies and conformity.

"Ready or not, here I come!" sings Kaia from the bottom of the stairs. I hear the gentle clicks of her footsteps and I dart into the nearest room.

Despite being covered in a thick coat of dust, the study has an old-world charm to it. Shelves, filled with government-approved books line the walls. And a fireplace with a foliage pattern engraved onto the stone sits near the entrance. I have always found it bizarre that my parents would keep this room as it was instead of modernizing it like the rest of the house.

The house used to be the second residence of a gallerist and I had always hoped to stumble upon a forbidden piece of history that hadn't been destroyed. But Mama told me that was ridiculous, that Home Inspection Crews routinely confiscate any contraband that threatens unison.

I run to the back of the room, but my foot gets caught on a loose plank and I fall to the floor. As I try to wedge the plank back in place, I catch a glimpse of an ebony frame.

I pull the plank to uncover a painting. There's no government emblem on it which means its discovery could lead to dire consequences. But even so, I'm mesmerized by the swirling shades of blue and the blazing yellow celestial objects. In the foreground, floats a dead, black tree, much like the ones that line our yard. My eyes wander to the curves of the hills in the background and I wonder what it would be like to stand at the top — to reach up for a fiery star so we could see sunny days again.

"Lina? Why aren't you hiding?" Kaia enters the room.

I shove the painting under the plank and mask the panic on my face. "I didn't know where to hide. Let's play another game." Despite Kaia being my best friend, I say nothing about the painting. Secrets are the only way to stay safe, Papa always said.


At night, the painting rages on in my dreams, its allure refusing to die down. As if I were being pulled by a magnet, I decide to visit the piece once more. I tiptoe to the study, careful not to make any noise.

I pry the plank loose, only to find the painting gone and a fresh pile of ash in the fireplace.

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.

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 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 will be 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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