Books·The First Page

The Turn of a New Leaf by Lukas Coossa

Lukas Coossa, 15, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2018 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Lukas Coossa, 15, is a 2018 finalist in the Grades 10 to 12 category for The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Lukas Coossa)

The Turn of a New Leaf by Lukas Coossa is one of 10 stories shortlisted for 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. Nearly 2,400 students submitted their stories.

Coossa, a student at Humberview Secondary School in Bolton, Ont., tackles climate change in The Turn of a New Leaf.

The twisting road winds down to a thicket of trees. Above is a tower in ruins, veiled by the downpour. 

"Are we there yet?" Sam asks. Again.

The whining seven-year-old slows our journey to NewToronto. I catch a glimpse of a blood-encrusted toe poking from his scruffy boot. 

I cringe away and look up. Misty rays bleed through the grey, roiling clouds. A flock of birds glides across. My knees buckle as the sky towers over me. My throat tightens.

So much open space. 

The underground silo I've lived in for 16 years had none of that eerie silence, endless space and biting cold. It protected us from the solar flare that scorched Earth with slight radiation. When Earth rebuilt itself, the residents stayed put underneath all the famine and disease. My family, my Dad, Grandpa and I, lived on LVL-31 close to the top.

Then, on the sub-floors, a leak changed everything. Weeks later, with water at ankle-height, residents moved up. Grumbles turned to protests. Protests led to accidents. Now, Dad's body fertilizes the crops on Hydroponics-148.

But our leader Frank promised to seal the leak and keep us safe. I know he will. Why Grandpa left two weeks ago baffles me. He's losing it, but I can't let him go alone. 

Grandpa is looking up. Heavy bags underline his eyes, but joy radiates from his face. Peace. His hand reaches out to feel the rain. 

A twig snaps. Grandpa jumps, fingers hovering on his knife. A gust swirls and rats scamper around us. We move under the blackened wreckage and huddle under rusty metal boxes, gasoline fumes seeping into the damp air. My panic recedes. 

A cough racks Grandpa, bending him over. 

"Where's NewToronto?" I ask.

"It's on higher grounds. We'll get there." The doubt in his voice belies his words.

"Is it safe?"

Grandpa scoffs. "Safety's overrated. You want freedom. Choice. No more following orders."

I like following orders. "Frank says freedom leads to chaos. From chaos, he brought us to order and safety. Peace for everyone."

"Can we go there?" Sam interrupts, gazing at his silly paper again: a family, all smiles with huge metal loops in the background. "They're happy. Why?"

The silo residents never smiled like that. 

"The future didn't matter back then," Grandpa says. "Little comforts did."

The drizzle clears, and I get up. "Piggyback?"

Sam's eyes light up.

About The First Page student writing challenge

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2168. 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 YA writer Cherie Dimaline, author of The Marrow Thieves. The winner will be announced on CBC Books on Feb. 22, 2019.

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 YA books.

CBC Books's next writing competition for students is the Shakespeare Selfie student writing challenge, which will open in April 2019.