Chad Lucas author photo

Back in 2021, I featured the first book in this middle grade series,  Thanks a Lot, Universe, and when learned about the sequel, YOU OWE ME ONE, UNIVERSE, which came out in 2023, I reached out to Chad Lucas for a follow-up interview. His next book,  The Vanished Ones, has been announced as well and is coming in January 2025.



Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .
But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and each other.




You Owe Me One Universe coverBrian knows that anxiety and depression aren’t things that are magically fixed overnight, but he still doesn’t understand why it’s all hitting him so hard right now. Sure, his dad is still in prison and middle school is still stressful, but he’s seeing a therapist, he’s got good friends, and he’s doing really well on the basketball team. He should be fine, so why does he feel too tired to get out of bed some days? And why does he turn into “Cursed Monster Brian” and snap whenever someone asks him what’s wrong? Ezra is trying his best to look out for Brian, but he’s not sure that he’s actually helping. Sure, they’re still best friends, but as Ezra starts preparing for the talent show, he also starts talking with Victor—the kid who relentlessly bullied Brian last year. It seems like Victor’s changed, and whenever he and Ezra hang out and make music together, Ezra’s stomach feels a little bit swoopy. But even if he likes making music and talking with Victor, he still feels like he’s betraying his best friend whenever they’re together. And he worries that he’s falling for another boy who won’t return his feelings . . . Earnest, heartfelt, and full of humor, Chad Lucas’s You Owe Me One, Universe explores the nuances and complications of middle school relationships—and shows how sometimes the smallest acts of caring can be the ones that matter most.


In our last interview, you said, “It’s always interesting to hear what sticks with different readers.” What is one of the most memorable things you’ve heard from one of your readers?

Hearing from young readers is definitely one of the most fun parts of being a middle grade writer. I received an email from a middle schooler recently who told me that Thanks A Lot, Universe was her favourite book and she literally screamed when she found out there was a sequel, so that’s encouraging! The messages that stick with me the most are from the kids who say that they see something of themselves in Brian or Ezra, and it has helped them understand something better about themselves or what they’re going through. Those ones really drive home the power of middle grade books.

And that’s one of many reasons why middle grade books are important! I love how YOU OWE ME ONE, UNIVERSE explores that journeys with mental health don’t stop once a diagnosis is reached, or a treatment plan followed. What do you wish more middle schoolers (and parents!) knew about this “I should be fine–why aren’t I?” phenomenon?

In You Owe Me One, Universe, Brian has to come to the realization that there isn’t one simple cause for his mental health struggle, or one straightforward solution. I don’t think that’s uncommon. Most parents, and most people who work with kids, are well aware that youth mental health diagnoses have risen sharply over the past 10-12 years. It’s human nature to look for a clear cause, so we can find a clear solution. I’ve seen a lot of articles and speculation suggesting that social media and smartphones are the culprits, for example. I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I think the issue is much more complex. There are plenty of genuinely distressing things happening in the world that could be contributing to youth anxiety! Sometimes I think the most compassionate message we can send is, “Yeah, it makes sense that you’re struggling, and I don’t have a perfect answer, but I’m with you in the journey.”

That’s a great message! I’ve heard a lot about “second book blues” when writing a series. What did you find most challenging about returning to Brian and Ezra’s story?

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return to Brian and Ezra’s story. This might sound surprising, but the most challenging part was trying not to think too hard about reader expectations. Brian and Ezra were “mine” while I wrote Thanks A Lot, Universe, but once it was out in the world, my characters belonged to readers too. At readings or school visits, I often heard, “I hope you write a sequel, and pleeease let [X] happen.” (If you’ve read TALU, maybe you can guess what X is!) I had to fight off the voice in my head that worried I was going to disappoint fans of the first book, in order to write the story that felt most true. I feel satisfied that I accomplished that in You Owe Me One, Universe, and of course I hope readers ultimately agree!

I have no doubts! What helps you feel most connected as an author when your creative well runs dry?

This question feels more important than ever. It’s not the most encouraging time to be an artist, or a person who cares about the well-being of kids, to be frank. But I always feel inspired, and reminded why I do this, when I have a chance to visit a school or lead a workshop where I’m interacting directly with youth who are creative and passionate about books. The kids, as they say, are all right.

I’m also deliberately trying to resist grind culture. It’s easy to feel the “shoulds” lurking over your shoulder: I should be writing the next thing, or building my brand on social media, or pitching to conferences, and on and on. You can burn out without necessarily moving the needle very much. Sometimes I just need to nap, or go for a run, and let my mind wander. That helps refill the well.






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