Books

The Tainted Land by Annabel Li

Annabel Li, 14, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2020 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Annabel Li, 14, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Annabel Li)

The Tainted Land by Annabel Li is one of 10 stories shortlisted for 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. More than 2,000 students submitted their stories.

Li, 14, a student at Handsworth Secondary in North Vancouver writes about pandemics and worsening air quality.


Nai-nai Wu liked to say that spirits talked to her. "Little gossips," she'd laughed, rubbing her weathered hands together. "They say that Chen's into the Black-Market now." And then, a week later, my oldest cousin got arrested after he was found with one of the shipments of fresh, succulent fruits meant for the stuck-up Richies.

But the spirits who always "spoke" to her seemed not to know or care to tell her that she'd be stuck in a crowded hospital, slowly dying of the Black Touch.

My family had immigrated to the Cleansed Land, the Promised Country, after ours got so tainted by the poisonous air that everyone was forced to move, or die. No one in my family wanted the latter, so we all ended up here.

My family had immigrated to the Cleansed Land, the Promised Country, after ours got so tainted by the poisonous air that everyone was forced to move, or die.

"What a promised land," I hiss under my breath as I roughly hit our rusted tap for the millionth time today, the thing so dented that it barely resembles a spout. I give it one last slap, and then a jet of water, murky and thick, suddenly spews out. Quickly, I catch some in my jug, flecks of mud splattering onto my hoodie, trying to salvage as much as I can, before setting it down, and wiping my hands on my tattered jeans.

After the Collapse due to the Black Touch, commodities have been hard to come by. You need Credits now just to afford the simplest of things. Like clean water. The kind of stuff that comes easy to the Richies, while those situated below them are forced to fight for the scraps.

"Any luck?" pipes up a small voice, and I whirl around to see Athya's small form perched on the countertop.

"Yeah, kinda." I swirl the liquid around, trying to separate the dirt from water, and failing to succeed. "At least I got two cups of stuff. Maybe."

"Cool beans!" She jumps off the counter, black braids whirling, as she skids to a stop next to me, and takes my pale hand in her brown one. "You wanna see Nai-nai?" Though she's my adopted sister, one of the orphans from the Black Touch, she's a part of the family now.

"Sure," I say, sighing deeply. I walk her out the door, and into the bleak world beyond.


About The First Page student writing challenge

David A. Robertson is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning author and judge of the 2020 First Page student writing challenge. (Amber Green)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2170. 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 award-winning author David A. Robertson

Robertson is a Cree writer from Winnipeg who writes books for readers of all ages — including the Governor General's Literary Award-winning picture book, When We Were Alone and the Reckoner graphic novel series.

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on April 16, 2021.

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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