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Everything's Not Fine

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A Kirkus Best YA Book of 2020 About Finding Inner Strength

Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Children's Book By a Wisconsin Author for 2021

Seventeen-year-old Rose Hemmersbach aspires to break out of small town Sparta, Wisconsin and achieve her artistic dreams, just like her aunt Colleen. Rose's love of Frida Kahlo fuels her paint brush and her dreams to attend a prestigious art school. 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 taken to hospital, the troubles are just beginning. Rose and her dad are left to pick up the pieces: traumatized siblings, a Child Protective Services investigation, eviction. As Rose fights to hold everything together, and her dreams of the future start to slip from 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.


Published May 26, 2020

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About the author

Sarah Carlson

2 books67 followers
Sarah J. Carlson writes contemporary YA that delves into complex, real world problems. Professionally, she is a school psychologist.

Sarah currently lives in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia with her husband and two children. Prior to that, she spent most of her life in Wisconsin, apart from a few years in Singapore.

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5 stars
45 (47%)
4 stars
33 (34%)
3 stars
14 (14%)
2 stars
2 (2%)
1 star
1 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 37 reviews
Profile Image for Stay Fetters.
2,014 reviews117 followers
March 9, 2020
"Our experiences shape who we are. We can let them crush us, or we can rise above and emerge stronger."

Addiction and overdoses are two things we hear about daily. It has overtaken the media and it’s a worldwide issue. Addiction just doesn’t affect the addict, it can destroy a family.

Books with similar stories usually sugarcoat what actually happens to family's and addicts after an overdose but this hits the nail right on the head. This is the book that everyone should read to see what really goes on before, during, and after a loved one does the unthinkable.

This book really hit me hard. I felt all the pain and emotions that Rose felt and how she tried to push others away. It broke my heart to read but seeing Rose get to the light at the end of the tunnel made my heart full. It was one of those books that you can't put down and had to finish in one sitting.

Fans of Ellen Hopkins and Mindy McGinnis will love this story of a family's struggle of growth and forgiveness as they overcome their Mom's addiction. This powerful book will stay with you forever.
Profile Image for Jypsy .
1,523 reviews74 followers
May 20, 2020
Thank you @theffbc for a complimentary copy. I voluntarily reviewed this book. All opinions expressed are my own.

Everything's Not Fine
By: Sarah Carlson

So many young adult books seem to gloss over the heavy stuff and downplay the ugly parts of life. Everything's Not Fine does none of that. This book takes an unflinching and unapologetic look at the effects of heroine on a family. Rose, a teen in high school, has dreams of art school in her future-until she doesn't. Rose's mother overdoses on heroin and survives, but her actions and her absence tears an unrepairable hole in this family. Rose's father finds it all perhaps too much, and Rose becomes the responsible person in her house. Her primary concern is keeping herself and her siblings together. Rose sees her future slipping away, but a little spark is in play with the opportunity to paint for homecoming and a new person in her life as catalysts for hope. Throughout the story, the negative effects on the family of an addict are depicted without censor. The struggle, the ugly, the despair and the brutality of it are here. Rose is an amazing character with an authentic voice and honesty perspective that I found refreshing. I'm glad to read something so ugly but beautiful all at once. This story is sharp, gritty and compelling as it addresses a relevant issue of society. How can a teenage girl carry such a weight? Rose learns that family and love are more important than anything and are vital to the growth of hope. It's hard to make it alone. I suggest this book for older young adult readers due to language and drugs. It's impactful and important for teens to read books that are more realistic, and I hope Everything's Not Fine is read widely.
Profile Image for Laura Gardner.
1,667 reviews103 followers
March 12, 2020
Thanks to @sjcarlsonauthor and @turnerpub for this free book to share with @kidlitexchange! It comes out 5/26/20.
If you're looking for an age appropriate book about what it's like to experience family opioid addiction and eviction as a teenager, put this book on the top of your list. Author Sarah J Carlson is a school psychologist and she's written a heart wrenching book on these timely topics. The book also incorporates the trauma involved with seeing a parent struggle with addiction. Also want to give a shout out for a fabulous friendship-turned-romance between Rose and Rafa. Grades 7+
Profile Image for Cheryl (I Heart Fictional People).
193 reviews25 followers
May 27, 2020
Review originally posted on my blog: I Heart Fictional People


I’m guilty of judging books by their covers. I’m not proud of it, but it’s a weakness. I can’t turn away from a beautiful cover. And this was definitely one of those beautiful covers. I was drawn in, and I couldn’t look away. Plus, the title got me. I think we can all relate to this. Do people ever tell you everything is fine? Or do you tell yourself that? But then you think, no! Everything is NOT fine! It’s honest. I like that. And come on! That synopsis! Her mother is a heroin addict! And has an overdose on the kitchen floor! WHAT?! I HAD to read this one.


It was real. It was honest. It was dark. Nothing was sugarcoated. It’s not this happy, teenage love story wrapped in a pretty pink bow. Sure, there was some romance, but that’s not what the heart of the story is. The heart of this story is Rose and her family dealing with a very real issue: addiction. Addiction is not pretty. Not for the addict and not for the addict’s loved ones. We witness the guilt, the anger, the sadness, and the consequences that coincide with addiction. But we also see a glimpse of hope, happiness, and redemption.

Rose. Rose is one of my most favorite female main characters that I have read about in a long time. On the surface, she may seem like this angry teenager with an attitude, but there is so much more to her. She is this very strong girl who just wants to protect and care for her younger siblings, even when she is trying so hard not to fall apart when her life is crumbling down around her. All she wants to do is make sure her siblings are okay, and those little moments with them, whether they’re laughing or crying, are the sweetest parts of this whole story.

The romance. Alright, alright. You know I’m a sucker for any type of romance. And even though it wasn’t the main part of the book, I think it was perfectly done. Rafa is almost like this bright light in Rose’s very dark world. He’s her escape from everything going on at home. And it was just very heartwarming. It wasn’t overly done or rushed. It was perfect.


Absolutely nothing. When I read, I create a page in my notes dedicated to each book, and I have two sections: what I like and what I don’t like. I write notes throughout the book. I literally did not write ANYTHING in the what I don’t like section. I have no complaints, and that rarely happens!


I just loved this book so much. I had a feeling I would, and I’m so glad I chose to participate in this tour. I felt all of the feelings Rose felt. I was there right by her side on this dark journey she had to face. The writing made it so relatable. As a reader, I just instantly felt a connection to her. And I appreciated how the author made that possible. It was hard for me to put the book down. I just HAD to know what happened to Rose, her family, and her growing friendship with Rafa. I just craved more. I guess my only disappointment, if you can call it that, is that it ended! I wanted to keep reading and reading. I am definitely a fan of Sarah Carlson now, and I can’t wait to read more of her books.

*I received an eBook copy of this book from The Fantastic Flying Book Club in exchange for an honest review*
Profile Image for Mark Alpheus.
588 reviews7 followers
March 20, 2021
I did not have a good start with this book but guess what? I love hoe it concluded! It was beautiful. Learning at the end of the book that the author is a school psychologist, I just~ wow.

Recommended to ppl who like painting, and explorations of trauma in books.
Profile Image for Amanda Mack.
6 reviews
April 2, 2020
Such a fantastic story and wonderfully written. The author perfectly captures the Midwest, the characters are so relatable and the subject matter relevant for the times. I just want to see this made into a movie!!!
42 reviews
December 21, 2022
The author really captures what it's like to have found someone you love addicted and overdosed. I can't begin to explain how accurate she has described the details of things like that spot on the floor where you found them and how big their pupils are. The constant worry and fear of every missed phone call is because they are dead. While this sounds depressing its really nice to connect with a character in a story.
Profile Image for Katie.
235 reviews7 followers
June 15, 2020
Review: Everything's Not Fine
Author: Sarah J Carlson
Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
Format: Arc Physical Copy
Rating: 5 stars ✨ ✨✨✨✨

My thoughts: This was a very important story that needed to be told. I like how the author took a different take on telling a different story that features the opioid epidemic. This story focused on the family and gave us snippets of how the different members of the family were dealing with the mom’s overdose (or not dealing). Rose throws herself into her art in an attempt to avoid the elephant in the room, but one evening the elephant becomes too big to avoid it any longer. Rose is left attempting to keep the family together and has an unbearable weight put in her shoulders. She finds solace in Rafa, who is new in town and enjoys art just like her. Rose finally opens up to Rafa. Overall I enjoyed the story and the characters. This book is a fast read and a definite must-read. I highly recommend reading this book!!
Profile Image for Paige.
1,695 reviews73 followers
May 7, 2020
Disclaimer: I received this e-book from the publisher. Thanks! All opinions are my own.

Book: Everything’s Not Fine

Author: Sarah Carlson

Book Series: Standalone

Rating: 5/5

Publication Date: May 26, 2020

Genre: YA Contemporary

Recommended Age: 16+ (drug use, addiction, near death)

Publisher: Turner

Pages: 304

Amazon Link

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Rose Hemmersbach aspires to break out 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 taken 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 her schoolwork, let alone pick up a paintbrush. Until Rose is 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 of the future start to slip from her grasp, she must face the question of what happens when – if – her mom comes home again. And if, deep down, if Rose even wants her to.

Review: What I think really will stick with me about this book is that this book wasn’t afraid to show the rawness about how drug abuse and addiction really is, much like Ellen Hopkins poetic books do. The book showed the before, the during, and the after and it did so without backing down. The book had amazing characters who were all wonderfully developed and the world building was marvelous. I really liked this book and I think the book can help kids and adults alike.

The only issue I had with the book was that I felt that the book was a bit too happy in the end and that the book had a slow pace.

Verdict: Worth the read!
47 reviews
May 12, 2020
@kidlitexchange #partner “Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the
review copy of this book - all opinions are my own.”

Wow! Sarah J Carlson hits it out of the park with her novel Everything’s Not Fine, a compelling story of what it’s like living with addiction. Set in small town Wisconsin, the twist here is that the addicted person is the main character, Rose’s, mother. How do you carry on as the oldest of four children, worry constantly about Protective Services taking your siblings and you away, hold down a job, and care about school? While living in “small town” anywhere can be a blessing, it’s also clear that the curse is knowing everyone’s business - or thinking that you do! Clearly Carlson’s experience as a school psychologist gives her a keen perspective and she captures it beautifully in her writing.

The power of family and love is poignantly evident as Rose does everything she can to keep her family ‘normal’ but feels overwhelmed with the responsibilities she feels are hers to bear. Rose’s struggles with her dad illustrate the additional issues with alcohol, guilt, unemployment, and overall teen angst in parenting through a dysfunctional situation where it seems like things can’t get any worse. Her friendship with Rafa shows how art and vulnerability allow her to let her guard down; it’s such a beautiful friend-turns-romance dynamic that I found myself rooting for them while crying and laughing with them too. And just when it looks like homecoming is going to be the perfect event, life intervenes and somehow messes up the fairy tale ending you hope for.

This is a perfect book for mature readers. The f-bomb gets dropped a bit, but it’s such a realistic portrayal of addiction that I wouldn’t let that deter me from recommending it to older middle grades and high schoolers. Since the setting is high school, it’s very relatable. The references to color and the sheer ability of Rose’s and Rafa’s artistic talents speaks volumes to those students whose creativity stands out in a sports-driven world. Yay for the creative arts!!
Profile Image for Maria.
178 reviews12 followers
May 18, 2020

Rose Hemmersbach has a perfectly laid out plan maintain her GPA in senior class, complete the Balwyn college application assignments and escape from her small town Sparta. But when her mother is found almost dead from drug overdose in her hall everything is going to change. Rose priority has shifted to her siblings and Dad. She doesn't even have an ounce of creativity or willingness to paint and her senior year is just passing by in a blur.

But when her Art teacher gives an assignment to paint mural for school homecoming with Rafa, a new student at Sparta, maybe there is a slim chance of painting again. But still she and her family have to address the elephant in the room.


The book deals with a lot of elements at once importance of family, mental health, drug overdose and addiction. And it does justice to them by displaying the bold consequences of addiction and laying out the emotions perfectly of the family affected by it.

It takes a lot of efforts to get invested in the book. In the beginning it is filled with painting references which is hard to understand. But after 50 pages it definitely gets interesting and more gripping.

Characters are well thought and their development arc is really well defined. You can feel the struggle Rose is going through. Her inner turmoil, her guilt, her love for family and her self destruction. Author captures the aftermath of addiction perfectly.

There was lot of sudden shifts in the scene, so it destroys the essence of a perfectly invested emotional scene. One minute Rose is feeling empty and lost and in the second she is bantering with Rafa. I understand she is a 17 year old but still if author could have executed it in a slightly different manner it would have hit home.

The writing was also a little bit difficult to understand. Though I am impressed with the way author has described paintings and their meaning in real life, it took me a lot of concentration to finish the book.

I like the ending of the book. It is not your cliche happily forever ending, it is as real life as the rest of the book. You take one day at a time and can't predict future.
Profile Image for Rosemarie ♦ wandersbetweenpages.
164 reviews11 followers
May 29, 2020
Upon joining this blog tour I didn’t read in full details the synopsis of the book. I just read the tagline and a few lines after it. To my defense, I seldom read synopsis about the book. I just trust my instincts about it and jump into the book. I also rely on reviews by other people, and because this is an arc, I cannot rely on that part. In all honesty, I was drawn to the cover and the name of the main character. She is Rose and I am Rose too. To make it even more intriguing to me, we actually have the same name. She is Rose Marie and I am Rosemarie. Just a little different on the spaces and all. But the same thing. That is a first for me, so I had to join it.

Now let’s tackle the plot, characters, writing style and the over all thoughts of the book.

First is plot. I find this plot different to most books. We get to see a different point of view with someone close and dear experiencing drug addiction. The books that I’ve read tackle more on the main character experiencing that but never the person affected about their decisions in life. As far as the books I’ve read though. It’s depressing to see our love ones suffering from our own selfish choices and seeing Rose and her entire family accept that new reality is hard.

Characters: I understand where Rose is getting her frustrations, being distant and avoiding any more pain and suffering to happen to her. It’s not easy to have experience what she saw that really changed her. I am glad that despite that, she found a friend that has gone through almost the same experience and understands her.

Full review: https://wandersbetweenpagess.wordpres...
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Zoe L..
390 reviews14 followers
May 18, 2020
The opioid crisis is something that hit really close to home with me when it swept through the small town I grew up in. Not only does it have devastating effects on individuals, but it can also have devastating effects on entire communities. So when I saw that this book covers addiction in a small town setting I knew that I had to read it.

This was such a gritty and raw and honest book. It takes a deep look into how addiction affects a person and their family. And this is a book about family. The story follows Rose and how she finds herself suddenly pushed into the position as the caretaker of her family. She can no longer be the high school student she used to, because high school no longer matters when she has to ensure that there’s money in the bank and food on the table.

Even with all of the heavy content in this book, the writing is still so beautiful. I think that the honesty of the writing really helped to paint a vivid picture. And the descriptions of painting and artistic analogies in writing were just so wonderfully executed. But over anything, this is a story about real life and the ups and downs that comes with it.

You can view my full review & giveaway on my blog! I also post about a lot of different types of books!

Reader | Bookstagrammer | Blogger | Reviewer
@ya.its.lit - https://www.instagram.com/ya.its.lit/
Blog - https://yaitslitblog.wordpress.com/
May 22, 2020
The writing style of the entire story can be recognised as modern day narration. The protagonist of our story is a teenager. Now when I say teenager, what comes to our minds is messy, confused, recognising life, facing the world, possible addictions, depression, do not care about anyone but themselves, but are all teenagers like that? No. Absolutely not. Rose is not like that.

We see the continuous development and growth of the protagonist as we read further page by page. There were times when I thought that the story could have been a lot more interesting if there were more thoughts and point of views of other characters and not so much spotlight on Rose. The story is extremely heart warming where we see the mutual sibling love of how they take care of each other even at times when you have your own thing to do.

The story evolves around a lot of trauma and the writing style was very repititive throughout the book. Slang words were repeated more than 4 times. Now I understand the central theme of the book but repeating lines and just repeatedly going over the trauma is something I found misdirected and I did not enjoy reading this one. There was a promise of hope in the ending but somehow the sub-plots, the trauma did not have a satisfying ending. This did not attach me with the book but the hint of hope in the ending was good

I would like to thank @theffbc for having me on this book tour.
Profile Image for Kari.
660 reviews37 followers
May 18, 2020
By Sarah J. Carlson

This novel contains both beauty and tragedy that is so truthfully spoken of what happens to 17 year old Rose when she finds her Mom overdosed & dying on the kitchen floor. This YA Novel brings the realities of who transpires to a family as the result of one persons choice to use Heroin. Seeing the pain and responsibilities Rose must now face that her Mom is in the hospital, is raw and heartbreaking. To see how it can change a once popular “pink Freshman High School girl to a “black” outcast Senior loner over her Mom’s 3 year heroine addiction.

The story, told from Rose’s POV, is so raw and vividly told. No longer a teen working on the Art she loves and planning her future but instead trying to raise her three younger siblings to avoid CPS coming to tear her family apart.

Her father, who was always her rock, breaks and to see her shoulder the strength for everyone tells a harrowing tale of how it is for many in the real world. Family is what Rose discovers is what matters above all else despite where the home is. She learns the value of true friendship, new found friends and romance. To not try to escape or give up her own dreams for anyone.

This book will be hard to put down, as I read in one sitting. It’s depth is deep and really gives you insight on how the darkness of addiction doesn’t just affect the user.
Profile Image for Valerie Biel.
Author 6 books64 followers
May 28, 2020
Everything’s Not Fine by Sarah Carlson made me cry—in the best way that a book can. Carlson’s writing transported me so completely into the story of 17-year-old Rose that I was heartbroken over the messed up family situation she finds herself stuck in along with all of the extra responsibilities that really shouldn’t be placed on a teenager’s shoulders. It’s no secret that this story centers around Rose’s mom’s heroin addiction and the overdose that nearly kills her. Carlson handles this timely topic with an honesty that acknowledges that young adult readers can deal with tough topics and, indeed, need authors to cover them because (unfortunately) they’re dealing with impossibly difficult situations in real life. That alone would have made the story a winner for me, but Carlson adds in delicious layers with a budding romance with a new (fellow-artist) student, the cruelty of the fast-paced, small-town gossip mill, and a sweet blanket of Midwest homecoming rituals. The characters are authentic in their dialog and interactions with each other—here the author’s background in psychology is clear. This story is painful and heartbreaking but also beautiful and hopeful—a relevant story for today that everyone should read.
Profile Image for Murray.
1,044 reviews18 followers
February 14, 2021
This gritty realistic YA novel takes a hard honest look at the cost of drug addiction in family that is might be considered the working poor. It's the start of Rose's senior year and she desires to go to a prestigious art school in California, but her mother is a heroin addict and overdoses at the book's beginning. Rose can't focus on school. She struggles with being over responsible for her younger siblings well being at times and at other times not wanting to have anything to do with them. She has established on online connection with an estranged aunt who's an acting success and she desires to escape like she did. She developes a friendship with a new student, who is artistically talented as she is and those she has romantic feelings for him but her family chaos makes it hard for her to be honest with him and with herself. Carlson is a school psychologist and her expertise with this subject matter and how students and families function around a member who is a drug addict makes this an exceptional book and I highly recommend to all teens and this would an excellent YA book club book.
Profile Image for Karen.
145 reviews5 followers
August 31, 2020
This is a high school level book. It is about a seventeen year old girl who lives in Wisconsin. She is interested in going to art school after she graduates. She struggles to focus on her own goals because she has to deal with the fact that her mother is a heroin addict. When Rose, the main character finds her mother dying on the floor from an overdose early on in the story, she takes on the role of caring for her younger siblings, helping her father pack their belongs because they are being evicted and trying to make it through a day of classes, when all she can think about is her mother and the betrayal she feels. There is a new boy at school who is also interested in art and together by creating a mural for the homecoming celebration, Rose learns that she can lean on others for help and that she is not alone in her struggles.
This is a brand new book. It was published in 2020 so there are a lot of modern references.
Profile Image for John Clark.
2,171 reviews22 followers
July 4, 2020
There are plenty of YA books around the themes of addiction and family dysfunction. What sets this one apart and above many of the rest is how well the author portrays the flow of insanity that permeates the thinking of family members affected by someone else's addictive behavior. Those affected are on a razor's edge much of the time, battling anger, fear, flickering hope and feeling like the addict's disease and accompanying behavior are hiding in the dark, like a boogeyman, waiting to kick any semblance of normal back to the curb. It's those dynamics as shown through the words and actions of Rose, Hollis, Sage and Vi, not to mention their dad and grandmother. The way their mother's overdose derailed their ability to function at school is expertly done. This is an emotionally loaded book and deserves a place in most libraries.
1 review7 followers
May 13, 2020
Sarah Carlson's second novel successfully captured the complexities of the main character, Rose, being a teen grappling with her future, and then added on the extra layers of trauma, addiction, home insecurity, and financial struggles. The novel navigated the two worlds of typical teen and traumatic home life beautifully and the result was that I wanted to finish the book all in one sitting. A great depiction of what many families are experiencing when facing addiction but written in a way that makes the topic digestible for teens.
Profile Image for Tianna.
55 reviews22 followers
May 22, 2020
I won this book through a goodreads giveaway.
First off I love reading about books that are set in the same state as me (Wi). Second this book was really enjoyable, I've never been really big on reading about addictions, but I actually really liked this one. It was from the oldest daughters point of view and how she handled every day that went by. It shows you how hard it is for kids to deal with parents with addictions. 5/5 stars
Profile Image for Amy V. Hefty.
1 review4 followers
December 28, 2020
Must Read!

Sarah Carlson’s novel tackles the subject of heroin use and the negative impact it has on the lives of those who love the user. Her characters are multi-faceted and well developed. Told you though the eyes of a high school seniors whose mom is addicted heroin, this book is an absolute page turner. It is obvious that the author did extensive research to make this book come to life!
Profile Image for Anabella.
Author 4 books
May 26, 2020
Just wow! Rose's story trapped me from beginning to end. Set in rural Wisconsin, the author manages to capture the world of a teenager that is crumbling in front of her eyes. The raw pain and maturity of Rose opened my eyes to the difficulties that many families endure when dealing with addictions. Highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Kimberly Gabriel.
Author 2 books116 followers
May 27, 2020
A gripping story about the bonds of family and addiction, Everything’s Not Fine showcases the power of love and resiliency. With unforgettable characters and an equally memorable setting, Rose’s story will take readers on an emotional journey that is, at times, gut-wrenching but ultimately hopeful.
Profile Image for Jan De la Rosa.
99 reviews18 followers
March 17, 2020
I worked closely on this book with Sarah so I'm pretty happy is coming out soon and I'll know what you think 📚👏
Profile Image for Mark Grotjohn .
18 reviews
May 23, 2020
Loved the book! My heart ached in all the right ways, including at the end. What a blunt look into the mind of a young person dealing with adult emotions and events. 5 🌟
Profile Image for Megan.
29 reviews
June 22, 2020
Good book. I like the way Carlson pulls the reader in with her descriptions. Enjoyed the character development.
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