Books·The First Page

The Watcher by Talissa Gagnon

The Watcher by Talissa Gagnon is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge.

2023 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

A portrait of a teenage girl with black hair and a red shirt with white polka dots smiles into the camera with green shrubs behind her.
Talissa Gagnon is a finalist for the 2023 First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 10-12 category. (Submitted by Talissa Gagnon)

The Watcher by Talissa Gagnon is one of 11 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 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 will be announced on May 31.

Gagnon, 16, a student at Collège Saint-Maurice in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., writes about the economic state of the world, the corruption of power and the arrival of new technology.

We were born of ash skin so silver it could be blue. Pitted eyes, pouting mouths and blistered feet. Bound to a house no bigger than a garage and no taller than a car. We lived, crouching like animals, eating what we had and sleeping when we could.

In the past, humanity thought that the future was going to be big. Tall towers, skyscrapers and drones flying in the clouds. Neon signs and interactive wardrobes that could dress us with a simple touch of the finger. They didn't imagine us like this. Poor, hungry, dehydrated, ugly. Starved of all money and power, still dreaming of the unattainable luxury that could somehow make us happy. Happy. Never in my life had I used this word until today, which is quite ironic, knowing that a few hours ago, I was burying my one and only child, Mara. She was only eight years old.

Her funeral was quiet. No guests, no friends, no family. People often assumed that a man who had worked his whole life could afford to grant a proper funeral for his daughter, yet I couldn't. I didn't have enough money to pay for flower holograms, nor for any other fancy ornaments to decorate her coffin. All I could do was to change the colour of her casket by salvaging the leftover acrylic that I had used to paint her crib. Lilac, the shade was, taking after her favourite flower, one that she had only gotten to see onscreen.

After saying goodbye to Mara, my heart had started hurting again, not from grief but from the tumour.

I had to get out of this house, out of my head, but going on a walk wasn't an option. It was 4:57 p.m. In three minutes, it was the curfew. But maybe I could quickly sneak out for a drag of my e-cigarette. Cancer, or whatever was now taking up the space that Mara had left in my heart, was not going to reverse itself anyway.

As I unbolted the window leading to the roof, a shadow appeared at the edge. The robot advanced into the light, flashing its yellow button: it had a voice message.

"My condolences," spat out the machine in a gravelly voice.

I recognized that tone instantly. Death.

Yes, the Reaper was a man, and that man was named the Governor.

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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