Books·The First Page

What I Left Behind by Owen Fitzpatrick

Owen Fitzpatrick, 11, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2018 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Owen Fitzpatrick, 11, is a 2018 finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category for The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Gillian Hickman)

What I Left Behind by Owen Fitzpatrick is one of 10 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 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.

Fitzpatrick, a student at Broadview Public School in Ottawa, Ont., tackles the refugee crisis in What I Left Behind.

The rain dripped down my creased brow as I stared up at the vidscreen. It was showing a serene, computer generated female face. The face had high cheekbones, blue eyes and blond hair. I could tell it wasn't real because of the hair. It was hanging completely straight, with not a hair out of place. No hair can be that straight. Stay calm, it was repeating over and over. It wasn't exactly helping me stay calm. I was one of thousands of people, clogging the entry to New America. I had escaped my country, war-torn Alaska. But I had to leave my entire life behind to do it.

About 100 metres ahead of me was a small booth. It was gray and squarish, with the only thing out of the ordinary being a small ball of light floating above the roof. It was glowing a soft grey. As I watched, someone stepped into it hesitantly. After a few moments, the light flashed green and then went back to grey. The man sauntered out. And I suddenly realized what this was. A Life Test. I'd only heard rumours about this experimental project. Basically, it scans your entire life and figures out if the good outweighs the bad or vice versa. If you're good, you're a citizen of New America. If you're bad… well, I didn't really want to think about it. I immediately started thinking about what I had done in my life.

Mostly good, from what I could think of. I didn't really think I had done anything bad in my life, other then the occasional prank or mistake. But then I had a horrifying thought. What if the things other people in your life had done counted as good or bad for you? When I was five, my family was ripped apart when my dad was arrested for the murder of my twin sister, Talia. Did he do it? I have no idea. But he died in jail, so I'll never know. I started sweating. The line was getting shorter and I was no more that 50 metres away. As I watched, a nervous-looking girl stepped into the booth. After a few moments, the light flashed a brilliant red. I watched as the girl was dragged, screaming, out of the booth. I closed my eyes and waited for it to finally be my turn.

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.