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Awards & Honors


Junior Library Guild selection


Young Adults' Choices 2017 Reading List (International Literacy Association)



"Weighty issues aside, Zoe comes across as a clever girl with a sense of humor about her own opinionated nature. A gripping page-turner for time fantasy enthusiasts."  


       "The repetitious nature of the story does not bog down the reader, who will remain riveted as each change Zoe makes causes unexpected consequences."

—School Library Connection, starred review/highly recommended

"(G)ripping from the start...Zoe is a compelling heroine in a tense situation... an ideal option for reluctant readers--they'll dive in in spite of themselves and likely find it hard to put down."

—The Bulletin 

Foreign Editions

German, Never Go Back;

Dutch, 23 Minutes -- What if you could turn back time?; another Dutch

tn_23 Minutes--German.jpeg
tn_23 Minutes--Dutch.jpeg

To read an interview with Debbi Michiko Florence re. 23 Minutes, click HERE.

23 Minutes

Ages: 12 - 15

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Book Description:

When fifteen-year-old Zoe witnesses a deadly bank robbery, she uses her ability to play back time to try to save the lives of the bank customers, particularly the handsome stranger who went out of his way to be kind to her, but things go from bad to worse... 

Where do you GET those ideas?


I'd been thinking that I wanted to do a serious story that used the same technique as in Heir Apparent, where the main character gets to try out different responses to the same situation. Heir Apparent is about Giannine, who is playing a one-step-beyond-virtual-reality game.  And, yes, true, her real life depends on her successfully finishing the game.  But I suspect that most readers never truly believe the last page is going to end with the coroner pulling the sheet over her face and saying, "Gosh!  If she'd only been a better player, we could have saved her life..."   In short, in Heir Apparent Giannine's failures are played for laughs. 

This time, I wanted to play for true life-and-death consequences. I wanted the main character (I didn't know her name yet) to face hard choices. I didn't know what those choices were yet; I didn't know anything yet: characters, setting, plot, twists.  All I knew was that I needed to clearly indicate right away that this story wasn't going to be primarily a comedy, so that readers wouldn't be complaining, "Hey! This isn't funny!"  And then the first line came to me: 

          "The story starts with an act of stunning violence."

And I knew no one would be expecting belly laughs after a line like that. 





The story starts with an act of stunning violence.


Or . . . well . . . maybe not exactly.


Maybe, exactly, the story starts when Zoe walks into the
bank--except she doesn't recognize it as a story yet. She just knows the sky has opened up in a late-autumn downpour so that she feels as though she's standing under the shower at the campground--the one that's strong and steady but has only two temperatures: cold and very cold. Zoe has never understood the point of camping. Haven't people evolved for thousands of years precisely so that they do not have to sleep on the ground, or pee and crap outdoors, or have to eat half-raw food that's been charred over a fire? But the people who run group homes for teens nobody wants to foster always seem to feel that "roughing it" is a way to Build Community Spirit. And to Bond with the Disadvantaged Youth of Our City. As though they weren't in a group home exactly because they'd had a rough time already. Zoe feels that an overnight at a Holiday Inn, hanging out in the hot tub, ordering room service, and watching on-demand movies, would make much more satisfying building and bonding experiences. Not that anybody has ever asked Zoe. So the rain starts fast and hard and just a degree or two warmer than sleet, and Zoe dashes through the first door she comes to and finds herself in a bank.

That's more a prelude than a beginning to the story: the foreword, the set-up.

Then there are the supporting characters: the snotty bank teller and the full-of-himself bank guard. As well as the one bank customer, the one who stands out from the fewer-than-a-dozen other customers--the young guy Zoe immediately pegs as an up-and-coming business exec or a junior lawyer at a prestigious law firm (the kind that does not advertise on TV). Zoe prides herself on being able to evaluate people quickly. It's been a necessity for survival. But this guy has an engaging smile and takes the time to speak kindly to her, even after she walks into him, steps on his foot, and drips rainwater on him and his expensive shoes. Lastly, and of course, there's the bank robber--although Zoe doesn't know yet that he is a bank robber.

Not much here to say story.

It doesn't really pick up speed until the robbery starts to go awry, until they're all within twenty feet of each other--even closer if you're willing to discount that one bank teller. Without her, they're really in a tight cluster: Zoe on her knees on the floor, the guard with his gun drawn and aimed at the head of the would-be robber, the would-be robber with his gun drawn and aimed at the head of the guy who was nice to Zoe.

Should I say it now? she wonders, several times, until finally, after all the shouting and gun-waving and threatening to shoot anyone and everyone, the robber's attention is firmly on someone else besides Zoe. Finally, she sees she might actually have a moment or two in which to use her special ability and get away. If only that opportunity weren't a result of the young CEO (or whatever he is) intentionally stepping between her and the robber.

Is he stupid or suicidal? Zoe asks herself.

But this is unfairly diminishing him. His eyes are blue and wide and have enough fear in them to say he knows exactly what he's done, enough defiance to declare he'd make the same choice again.

And that holds Zoe where she is.

The situation gets even worse, with more shouting, more threatening--and then there are two simultaneous shots. Or too close to simultaneous to make a difference.

Leaving Zoe spattered in the blood of both the thief and the customer she'd almost had time to grow to like. Not to mention bits of bone. And what she very fervently tries to convince herself could not possibly really be pieces of brain matter.

That's how the story starts.

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