Books·The First Page

UnderCity by Foxx Gilberds

Foxx Gilberds, 17, 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

Foxx Gilberds, 17, is a 2018 finalist in the Grades 10 to 12 category for The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Jud Deuling)

UnderCity by Foxx Gilberds 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.

Gilberds, a student at Individual Learning Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon, tackles prison reform in UnderCity.

Skiv brought the wrapped fungus stick to his cracked lips and drew in a deep breath of aromatic smoke. To an Upworlder, it would have been reminiscent of a cigarette, but it was impossible to grow tobacco in the low lighting of the undercity. The boy blew out a lungful of smoke and took a second to close his eyes. 

Down in the earth, in the great tunnels that catacombed the foundations for the Upworld, laid the undercity of Octavius Prime. As prisons became overfull, the development of a new method of containment was pushed upon the rulers of the towering cities that covered the continent of Merica. Below the industrial levels of the city, below even the forges, the nobilites had erected the massive prison city.

Skiv Andrus had never seen the sun. He was greeted each morning by the flickering, effervescent lights of hab-block 86. It was common knowledge that the Upworld existed, but for those sentenced to a life in Octavius Prime it was no more than a distant dream.

Like most of the young folk of the city, Skiv had inherited the sentence of his predecessors. It was through no crime of his own that he had been condemned to a life of darkness and violence, but humans cling to hope no matter how thin the thread, and so he learned the ways of the undercity.

With a bit of muscle it was possible to establish your own laws in the unrestricted streets of Octavius Prime, that or being fortunate enough to find whatever scraps of Upworld technology drifted down to the city. With a bit of luck a boy could go from scrambling for a meal to the lord of all he could see, at least until someone found something new, or he was deposed by whoever just happened to own a bolt gun.

The boy opened his eyes and flicked the ashes of his fungus stick to the damp pavement at his feet. With calloused fingers Skiv pinched out the embers and pocketed the remainder. He waited in the back-alley of his hab-block in silence, watching, waiting until a shipment inevitably passed by. Instead his eyes settled on someone he knew.

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.