When Flash Mobs Turn Deadly
By Dawn Ius
Kimberly Gabriel was living in Chicago when in 2011, a series of “flash mob” attacks swept through a proclaimed safe part of the city—a little too close to home.
“I remember reading stories where dozens of teenagers would suddenly emerge from the crowd and descend on one tourist to mug and attack,” she says. “The stories terrified me. I was pregnant with my second child at the time, and I was worried about my husband walking alone any time he left the house.”
Gabriel’s emotional response about the attacks was so strong that she did what any good aspiring author would do—she began thinking about how she could turn these horrific events into the premise for a thriller for teens.
What if, she thought, the attacks were bigger—a crowd of 50 or more youth instead of 20? And what if they were premeditated, choreographed by a nefarious villain that no one would suspect? Gabriel combined the answers to those What If statements, tossed in some mystery and a bit of romance and voila—her debut young adult thriller EVERY STOLEN BREATH was born.
Of course, that’s a simplified explanation of the intricacies Gabriel has woven into a novel that is so well paced, it’s almost impossible not to read it in one sitting.
The story kicks off with an introduction to 16-year-old Lia—a girl who knows all too well the dangers of these flash attacks. Two years prior, Lia’s father, attorney Steven Finch, was the last victim of what the media have dubbed The Swarm, an “unrecognizable, untraceable, and unpredictable mob that leaves death in its wake.”
“Lia is determined, and even obsessed at times, to seek justice for her father’s murder,” Gabriel says. “But she’s also a 16-year-old girl with asthma, anxiety, and PTSD. She perceives these traits as weaknesses that hold her back, but instead she demonstrates a fierce drive and resilience by pushing through her struggles. Some of the strongest, most determined people I’ve ever met have become that way by battling adversity, and as a result, building their anti-fragility.”
This exploration of strength is one of the underlying themes in the novel—and Gabriel does a masterful job of balancing the external and internal conflicts that her protagonist must overcome. Though Lia is somewhat broken when we first meet her, she is also fierce, even in the face of real danger—a factor that comes into play from the pulse-pounding opening scene.
“I hope young readers see that mental strength is often more powerful than physical strength, and that even people who are perceived as weak can be incredibly strong when they need to be,” Gabriel says.
It’s a message she hopes will resonate with her own three children when they’re old enough to read her book, but they aren’t the only youth that inform her writing. Gabriel is a Chicago middle school literacy teacher and has seen firsthand how her students are drawn to books packed with tension and conflict.
“I love finding students books they’ll love,” she says. “For the longest time, I didn’t have enough YA thrillers to give them, especially because they had a tendency to read them so quickly. From the inception of this book, I wrote EVERY STOLEN BREATH with my students in mind.”
Certainly the steamy romantic subplot is for them, but it’s also a reflection of what Gabriel likes to read—and a slow-burn type of relationship is what she loves to write, as well. But it’s not the only aspect of the book that mirror’s Gabriel’s life.
One of Gabriel’s sons has asthma, and when he was younger, it led to chronic health problems, to the point that for the first two years of his life, he was in and out of the hospital.
“But during that time, he had this fight and this drive in him that blew us away,” she says. “While he had every right to be frustrated and angry because of his condition, he was the happiest kid. I took that particular dynamic from my son and gave it to Lia.”
Gabriel also reached out to an asthma specialist and talked to people with asthma to gain an understanding of how Lia’s struggle to breathe might impact her. The result is a realistic representation of how someone with asthma and anxiety would react in situations that would steal the breath from someone 100 percent healthy.
The book is packed with those moments—tension is a Gabriel specialty—but there are also some fascinating personal tidbits peppered in throughout the novel.
“There are numbers used through the book, and I’ve hidden my kids’ and my husband’s birthdates among those numbers,” Gabriel says. “There is also one character named Mr. Mater, which was named after the Disney Cars character because my two sons loved Mater the tow-truck at the time I was writing it.”
It’s clear that writing is a labor of love for Gabriel, but that nurturing nature extends beyond her home life and even the classroom—she’s an active participant in the young adult community, not only supporting fellow authors by attending book events, promoting their work, and inviting them to speak to her students via Skype, but also by coaching aspiring writers to success through initiatives such as PitchWars.
“Some of the best advice I got early on, was that this industry is tough, and you have to celebrate each step along the way. I’m happy to say that advice stuck, and I have celebrated each step of my own journey,” she says. “But I also love celebrating everyone else’s accomplishments.
“I queried my first manuscript without a network or a writing community. Because of it, I made a million mistakes along the way. It wasn’t until my manuscript was selected for PitchWars in 2016 that I became immersed in the writing community. Once that happened, it created this fantastic springboard that propelled me into the industry. I love helping other authors find that boost, and because I know how difficult the publishing journey can be, I love celebrating it for everyone who achieves it. I was a YA reader and fangirl before I became a YA writer, and in many ways that part of me hasn’t gone away.”