Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

About sjcarlson

American living in Singapore. Interested in writing, running, photography, oil painting, and travel. Just finished another YA novel!

Everything’s Not Fine is a Kirkus 2020 Best of…


I’m beyond honored to share that my Contemporary Young Adult novel Everything’s Not Fine was nominated as a Kirkus YA Best Books of 2020 About Finding Inner Strength.

For most of my formative years, I lived in small Wisconsin towns; these places helped shape me into who I am today. Growing up, I never read a book set in Wisconsin, let alone small-town Wisconsin. That’s a big part of why I chose to set Everything’s Not Fine in Sparta, Wisconsin, and it’s amazing to see it featured on such a highly-regarded list.

I’m a young adult author (my debut was All the Walls of Belfast), but I have also been a school psychologist working in the schools for the past twelve years.

One of my professional areas of focus is around bolstering resilience in children who have experienced trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences. The biggest thing I see impacting children are things happening in their world beyond their control, and one of the most life-impacting Adverse Childhood Experiences is parental substance-use addiction. More than 20 million Americans are battling substance-use addiction. For those suffering, addiction becomes like a car with no brakes, and their children are trapped inside with them.

Everything’s Not Fine centers around a teenage girl trying to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of her mother’s heroin overdose. I wanted to explore how she struggles to help put her family’s life back together while also making sense of her mom’s choices and their relationship. At its core, Everything’s Not Fine is about a girl discovering her own resilience and the healing power of admitting to those she grows to trust that everything isn’t fine.

Recent statistics suggest that 58% of older teens have experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience, and many have experienced more than one. I wrote this book for them.

EVERYTHING’S NOT FINE is officially out in the world


Out now FB

My second young adult novel Everything’s Not Fine is out today.

I started this novel over five years ago while feeling homesick living in Singapore. It’s gone through a lot of growing pains since I first started writing it, cutting an entire point-of-view character, cutting an entire storyline, and re-writing the remaining storyline from the ground up. I still cannot believe it’s now a published book.

Ultimately it’s a story about discovering resilience in the face of things you can’t control.

Here’s the back copy, in case you’re curious:

back cover

You can now buy it on, IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository and many other places. You can alsobuy direct from my publisher and get a discount and instant shipping.

Because of COVID-19, I’m doing my book launch tonight virtually on Instagram Live at 8 PM CST with USA Today best-selling young adult author Kelly Anne Blount. I’ll be giving away a signed copy and some book swag. Join us if you can.

Everything's not fine launch

ALL THE WALLS OF BELFAST is nominated for an award



I’m beyond honored to announce that All the Walls of Belfast is a finalist for the National Readers Choice Award!

This is the first award either of my books has been up to win. Unfortunately, due to COVID there won’t be an in-person awards ceremony, but it’s so exciting to see the story I dreamed up after a trip to Belfast, my first book baby, be nominated for a national award.



Goodreads Giveaway for EVERYTHING’S NOT FINE



There’s currently a Goodreads giveaway running for Everything’s Not Fine. If you’d like a shot at getting an early read of an advanced copy, click here!

Here’s a bit more about Everything’s Not Fine.

Seventeen-year-old Rose Hemmersbach aspires to break free of small-town Sparta, Wisconsin and achieve her artistic dreams at Belwyn School for the Arts after she graduates. Painting is Rose’s escape from her annoying younger siblings and her family’s one rule: ignore the elephant in the room, because talking about it makes it real. That is, until the day Rose finds her mother dying on the kitchen floor of a heroin overdose. Kneeling beside her, Rose pleads with the universe to find a heartbeat. She does—but when her mother is take to the hospital, the troubles are just beginning. Rose and her dad are left to pick up the pieces. Now all that matters are her siblings. Rose doesn’t have room to do to her schoolwork, let alone pick up a paintbrush. Until she’s forced to do the homecoming mural with Rafa, a new senior at Sparta High. Rose and Rafa don’t have an ounce of school spirit between them, but Rose discovers her brain still has room to paint. As Rose fights to hold everything together, and her dreams for the future start to slip through her grasp, she must face the question of what happens when—if—her mom comes home again. And if, deep down, Rose even wants her to.

novel aesthetic 2

It’s hard to believe my second novel comes out in less than two months.

ALL THE WALLS OF BELFAST has been out for over a year


It’s so hard to believe All the Walls of Belfast, my debut novel that took over five years to write, has been out of over a year. It’s still a little surreal.


Here’s a bit more about All the Walls of Belfast:

The Carnival at Bray meets West Side Story in Sarah Carlson’s powerful YA debut; set in post-conflict Belfast (Northern Ireland), alternating between two teenagers, both trying to understand their past and preserve their future. Seventeen-year-olds, Fiona and Danny must choose between their dreams and the people they aspire to be.
Fiona and Danny were born in the same hospital. Fiona’s mom fled with her to the United States when she was two, but, fourteen years after the Troubles ended, a forty-foot-tall peace wall still separates her dad’s Catholic neighborhood from Danny’s Protestant neighborhood.
After chance brings Fiona and Danny together, their love of the band Fading Stars, big dreams, and desire to run away from their families unites them. Danny and Fiona must help one another overcome the burden of their parents’ pasts. But one ugly truth might shatter what they have…

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Praise for All the Walls of Belfast
“Compassionate, honest, and hopeful, All The Walls of Belfast celebrates the power of first love to build bridges and scale walls.
~ Marie Marquardt, author of Dream Things True
“A  powerful story about how the stones our parents throw in the past make ripples in our futures.”
~Christina June, award-winning author of It Started With Goodbye
“I loved it! The story kept building and building as I was falling deeper and deeper for these characters, Danny and Fiona, the Romeo and Juliet of Belfast…a stellar debut!” ― Jessie Ann Foley, award-winning author of The Carnival at Bray

All the Walls of Belfast is the gripping story of courage and redemption in turbulent post-conflict Northern Ireland. Brilliantly written, this vivid fiction meets reality novel reveals how two teens navigate life with the fallout of their parents’ actions. ~Angie Stanton, award winning author of Waking in Time
A Barnes & Noble Teen Most Anticipated Indie YA Book of 2019
“Set against the backdrop of the religious tensions in Northern Ireland [Carlson’s] debut features characters with stark religious differences and histories that must be overcome… an endearing story full of pain, love, and strength.” Booklist
“… a young adult romance with real meaning behind it, and it is a welcome addition to the genre.” ~Foreward Reviews
School Library Journal.:
Gr 8 Up-American teen Fiona travels to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to reunite with her father whom she has not seen since she was a toddler. Having no memories of her older half brothers or her birthplace, Fiona tentatively gets to know her family and explores her culture and community. She discovers her Catholic father was formally a key member of the IRA and his bombs killed many people during the Troubles, a time when ethno-nationalism led to violence between Catholics and Protestants. Fiona meets Danny, a Protestant who is studying for his school finals and wishes to join the British Army as a nurse against his gangster father’s wishes. The two begin to see one another, but their parents’ pasts threaten their relationship. Alternating chapters between Fiona and Danny establish their family dynamics and allow readers to root for them as their believable romance blossoms. Author Sarah Carlson creates an atmospheric narrative, explaining just enough of the current political and cultural landscape to understand how the walls running through Belfast still affect both communities on either side of it. The story doesn’t shy away from showing gritty reality and dysfunctional families that are partly due to the conflicts that ended only recently. VERDICT This contemporary drama has an appealing romance and the nuanced story may push teens to think critically about religious and cultural differences; and ultimately about forgiveness. A solid choice for all teen collections.-Nancy McKay, Ella Johnson Memorial Library, Hampshire, IL

Buy All the Walls of Belfast.