Books·The First Page

Ugly Perfection by Jessie Yang

Ugly Perfection by Jessie 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 smirking into the camera.
Jessie Yang is a finalist for the 2023 First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 7 to 9 category. (Submitted by Jessie Yang)

Ugly Perfection by Jessie 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 Port Moody Secondary School in Coquitlam, B.C., writes about the censorship of individuality and the mushrooming emphasis on beauty standards.

I deliberately took the wrong turn home tonight, slipping through the cold metal gates of her backyard and into her house.

Engulfed in luxury fragrance, her bedroom is the same size as the entirety of my house. Paintings and mirrors adorned her walls, all serving merely as decorations — mirrors had been rendered superfluous since The Embellishment. Nonetheless, I glance at one outlined with antique framing. Perfection glares back. Of course, I didn't expect otherwise. They crafted my appearance for a reason.

Every pixel of my body — of everyone's body — is meticulously designed, carved into the same image of ugly perfection. I hate how the perfect hue of rosy pink stained the perfect, doll-like skin of my angular cheekbones. I hate how my body is sculpted into taut curves of perfection. I hate how even before I was born, before I could even speak, much less give consent, they had decided my fate. My features are perfect: plump lips, lengthy lashes, smooth under eyes. I try to simulate a smile. Raising the corners of my lips, my perfectly aligned, ghastly white teeth are unveiled. I almost gag at my reflection.

It felt synthetic. Living in this contrived reality where my every encounter serves as a looking-glass.

Before her passing, mother would tell me tales of the time before The Embellishment. About an unimaginable era where everyone had individual appearances, features unlike their friends, their teachers or anyone for that matter. "It was different," she had said, "we wore features that would be considered flaws today."

She mentioned something about mankind's obsession with a beauty standard, about the surging popularity surrounding new technologies of cosmetic surgery, about the government's alteration of everyone's genes so that we all share the same shadows of ugly perfection — but to be frank, the content of her stories was beyond me. My mother's tone — there was something unique about it.

"The flaw with humanity is that we collectively crave for what we lack. We long to fit into the same standard set by mankind. We long to censor our idiosyncrasies. Technological advancements opened the gates, but it's a one way road."

The way she pronounced idiosyncrasies; she didn't describe it like the horrid thing everyone else portrays it to be. It's almost humorous.

A voice interrupts my train of thoughts,"Kathy, food's ready!"

I grinned to myself. I'm not Kathy — not that they'll ever know. I look exactly like her, everyone does.

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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