Books·The First Page

War by Fiona Bagnall

War by Fiona Bagnall is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge.

2023 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

A portrait of a teenage girl with dark brown hair smiling at the camera.
Fiona Bagnall is a finalist for the 2023 First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 7 to 9 category. (Submitted by Fiona Bagnall)

War by Fiona Bagnall 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.

Bagnall, 13, a student at St. John Henry Newman School in Calgary, writes about a world at war over water.

There it goes again.

Huddled in the basement, the single light bulb flickers, and I shiver, pressing against the warmth of my sister. A rumble echoes through the silence, and she squeals and wraps a blanket around herself. Trying not to show my fear, I turn to my brother. He looks anxiously at the dirt packed on top of us, as a few crumbs of earth fall softly to the floor. Muffled shouts outside snap him back to focus, and he stiffens as gunshots ring through the silence.

Squeezing her blanket, my sister curls against my brother, trying to blur out the world in a few moments of comfort. I glance up towards the staircase, to the barricaded door, to the shattered glass on the floor. I wish that our world would come to peace. So that my sister could play outside without the threat of death looming over her shoulder. That my brother could go to university and etch out a life for himself, instead of hiding in a muddy basement cowering from the war on the other side of that door.

It had escalated drastically over the past few weeks, World War VII. With the Atlantic full of oil and scum, and the Pacific reduced to a heap of trash, no wonder everyone fought over the Arctic. I just wish we hadn't been caught in the crossfire.

My wishes are worthless, I know. The light bulb goes out, then on, quivering between hope and despair, wishes and reality. I just can't help wanting the world to be still, with no more soldiers pounding on houses with weapons and demands.

A scream outside jars me from my thoughts, bringing back the pressing matters of today. Voices bounce around our empty space, harsh words spoken followed by a swift gunshot. Heavy boots stomp around our home, echoing through the abandoned rooms, before kicking at the fortified door. My sister cries silent tears, her face too young for this world. My brother gives her one last squeeze, then turns to me. The fear in his golden eyes, the lines on his worn face, the warmth of his arms around me. Then he turns and faces the stairs, looking up to the shaking door as it trembles beneath the weight of the soldiers.

The boards snap, the door caves, and the light flickers once before fading.

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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