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Sarah Everett

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Author Profiles

Sarah Everett’s middle-grade debut explores the vastness of grief

Photo Credit: Cassandra Williams

“The odds of being born [are] 1 in 5.5 trillion.” This is just one of the marvelous facts one learns from reading Sarah Everett’s stunning middle-grade debut, The Probability of Everything (Clarion Books, June).

In the novel, Kemi Carter is an 11-year-old who loves the science of probability and collects facts. This comes in handy when an asteroid heads toward Earth with an 84.7 per cent chance of striking in four days. Kemi comforts herself with the notion that “the end of anything (even the world, even us) is just a change. Kind of like water turning to ice or rearranging furniture. We just become something different.”

Out of step with their new white upper-middle-class neighbourhood, Kemi and her family take refuge in their old one. Missing her house and not wanting her pregnant mother and the people in her life to die of sadness before the asteroid even hits, Kemi goes on an “end-of-the-world mission” to put together a time capsule. But it’s a race against the looming asteroid that turns the sky purple as it draws closer.

While racism, grief, and an apocalypse might seem heavy for middle-grade readers, Everett felt no need to censor herself. “The more I read in that age group,” she says, “I came to realize that it’s not so much about content – it’s very much about the voice, and what the character sounds like.”

Everett had an early start to her career: plucked more than a decade ago from the slush pile, she established herself as a YA author. When asked why she expanded to middle grade, Everett holds that the transition happened organically. “I always knew that this book was going to have a younger protagonist. In 2020, I happened to be between YA books, and I was also at a point in my career where I was wanting to take some risks and do something a little bit different.” Everett decided to write the novel she’d had the idea for early on in her career, but hadn’t been ready to write.

“A decade or so ago, a loved one passed away pretty tragically. Since I process a lot of my emotions through reading, I had wanted to find a book that dealt with a specific aspect of grief,” she says. “There are a lot of books about the anger phase, sadness phase, or the recovery phase, but there wasn’t a whole lot about how mind-boggling loss is: the idea someone was here and now they’re gone, and are never going to be here again, and coming to terms with that new reality. I wanted this idea of grief to feel huge and sort of almost unbelievable. That was where the asteroid came from. I wanted it to be out of this world and hard to wrap your mind around.”

While the novel is in part inspired by some of the events of 2020, such as the murder of George Floyd and the killing of Breonna Taylor, Everett believes “no matter your background, everybody struggles with belonging, especially when your culture is different. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people aren’t always welcomed, based on the colour of their skin, the language they speak, or their ethnicity.” Everett is familiar with these experiences, and they informed the book.

Writing the novel wasn’t easy. Everett had to take breaks due to the subject matter and show herself a lot of self-compassion. But “writing it was made easier because I had love for these characters.”

When Everett was growing up, “there weren’t a whole lot of books about Black girls going through their first crush, falling in love, or dealing with choosing a college. I remember really needing those books, but feeling like only white characters get to have these adventures or be the main character.” In writing her own stories, Everett hopes that young girls, Black girls in particular, get to read her work and “feel like there’s a place for them in the world and there’s value to their experiences and their emotions.” As a younger version of herself, Everett would have really liked “to know that girls like Kemi, who love science, were out there in the world and have a lovely supportive family.”

As with all her books, Everett hopes that this novel will “open the door for conversations around some of the more difficult things that we deal with – whether that’s racial violence, grief, family relationships, or even asteroids – and make people, especially Black kids, feel less alone in whatever they’re going through.”