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2023 GGBooks Special: The Chat with Sarah Everett


Next up in this year’s coverage of the Governor General’s Literary Awards, we’re in conversation with Sarah Everett. Her YA novel The Probability of Everything (Clarion Books/HarperCollins) won this year’s Governor General’s Award for Young People’s Literature – Text.

The peer assessment committee—Cheryl Foggo, June Hur and Tom Ryan—praised the novel:

"Seamlessly moving between the poetic and the grounded, Everett weaves a heartwarming and heartbreaking tale that lingers. By the time readers reach the emotional climax of this surprising, powerful and beautifully written novel, they’ll be inclined to return to the beginning and read it again from the perspective of someone who knows what’s coming."

Sarah Everett is the author of several books for young readers, including How to Live Without You, Some Other Now and the forthcoming The Shape of Lost Things. She has been writing stories since childhood, and her work has been published in 11 languages. When she is not reading or writing, she is dreaming about summer, perfecting her tree pose or gearing up for her next travel adventure. She lives in the Canadian prairies.


Imagine you could spend a day with any author, living or dead. Who would you choose, what would you do, and what would you talk about?

E.B. White’s writing had the most memorable and impactful effect on me as a kid. Reading Charlotte’s Web at eight, it was a complete revelation to me that bittersweet endings existed—in books and in life. The experience was deeply formative for me as a reader and as a writer. I think I’d pick his brain about writing complex emotions and experiences (for young readers and for adults) over a cup of coffee or tea.


What advice would you give your ten-year-old self about the future?

I’d tell ten-year-old Sarah to be more courageous. Live honestly, read fearlessly, write bravely.

Your book The Probability of Everything tells the story of eleven-year-old Kemi Carter, who loves scientific facts and grows concerned when she realizes there’s a strong probability that an asteroid will strike the Earth within four days. What did you enjoy most about bringing Kemi to life as a character?

I really loved spending time in a world and a family that is as full of love as Kemi’s is, but my favourite place to be truly was in Kemi’s brain. She is smart and analytical and observant, and finding ways for her to use those skills to process her big emotions was a fun challenge. One of the biggest questions I faced while writing was figuring out how an eleven-year-old girl would view and experience the end of the world, and to be honest, it stumped me for a while. But when I went back to who Kemi is at heart, the answer became very clear: science, data, theories, facts. She’d use the concrete to make the unthinkable manageable.  

In an alternate life, who would you be if you were not a writer?

I’ve always been interested in human behaviour, especially behaviour that is unexpected or "abnormal." In another life, I’d be a clinical psychologist.

What was the last book by a Canadian author that changed you in some way?

I just finished Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey, and I related to it so much more than I expected to. Biographically, my life and the main character’s life are very different, but there is something so familiar and cathartic about watching someone else’s ungraceful coming-of-age. Apparently adulthood is exactly like high school: you thought everyone else had it figured out, and then it turns out, blessedly, that none of us do.

There is something so familiar and cathartic about watching someone else’s ungraceful coming-of-age ...


Excerpt from The Probability of Everything

    “Hello, party people!” our server, a friendly looking Black woman about Mom’s age, said. Her name tag said LOIS! “How is everybody today?”

    “Good,” we all said.

    “What can I start you off with?” she asked me. I didn’t know LOIS! which probably meant she was new.

    “Can I have the sweet potato fries?” I said, because it had to be that. Nothing else was right.

    While Lucas and Tillie were ordering, I slid a menu off the table and into my lap. Then I bent down, pretending to look for something and slipped it into my backpack.
    I knew stealing was wrong, but I told myself it was for a good cause. For the best cause.

    The menu was going to be the first item in my time capsule, and it was important because it would tell the next earthlings about the place where everything started. The place Mom and Dad met, the place where there were dozens of names that would never be forgotten.

    When I came back up from under the table, Lucas was looking at me, a glimmer in his eyes.

    I saw that, he mouthed to me.

    I shook my head at him, hoping he got the message not to say anything.

    After we had all ordered and LOIS! had gone to get our food ready, I leaned forward.

    “When I come here with my parents, there’s something we always do,” I said. I wondered if it was making it less special to tell Tillie and Lucas about me and Mom and Dad’s ritual, but then I decided it wasn’t. Something didn’t stop belonging to you just because you shared it with other people.

    I dug in my backpack for my bright blue wallet. All the money I’d saved up from my allowance was in there, and I fished out some coins.

    I stood up and went to the jukebox in the corner of the room. I put in the coins and chose a song: "Walking on Sunshine." By the time I got back to our booth, Tillie was up and dancing and Lucas stood too and twirled her.

    I spun and wriggled my shoulders and laughed even though I knew this was the last time I would hear this song before Amplus hit. Dad called that restless feeling, that urge to dance the Can’t Stop! Won’t Stop! Itch, and I felt it now in the strongest way. I loved this song that was the start of me, the start of one part of my family, so I threw back my head and shimmied even though a bunch of the customers were starting to point and look at us.

    This—dancing in the aisles of the diner while we waited for our food—was soon going to be a memory. Glossy and far away, dusty looking like the Polaroid photos my mom had on the fridge of her college days. Soon that would be all we were: a memory.

    It was the saddest thought of all the thoughts that were running through my head, but I closed my eyes and danced like we weren’t getting closer and closer to the end of everything we knew.

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