All the Answers by Kate Messner
I now work at Bloomsbury, who published this book, but that in no way has affected my opinion.
Summary: What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Would you know what your teachers were thinking? When Ava Anderson finds a scratched up pencil she doodles like she would with any other pencil. But when she writes a question in the margin of her math quiz, she hears a clear answer in a voice no one else seems to hear.
With the help of her friend Sophie, Ava figures out that the pencil will answer factual questions only – those with definite right or wrong answers – but won’t predict the future. Ava and Sophie discover all kinds of uses for the pencil, and Ava's confidence grows with each answer. But it's getting shorter with every sharpening, and when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava's family, she realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers...
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Sometimes I have enough free time at work to read things we've already published. I've really enjoyed two of Kate Messner's most recent titles, so I've been taking a look at her backlist. From the get-go, All the Answers appealed to me. It operates under a similar magical contemporary premise as The Seventh Wish, but with a special pencil instead of a wish-granting fish.
It was fascinating to see how Ava learned how to use the pencil, and I loved all the relationship dynamics between her and her parents, her grandmother, and her best friend, Sophie. All the main adults in the book are great. They aren't perfect, but they also aren't villains, which was lovely. I did want a little more between Ava and her siblings, Marcus and Emma, though.
One of the biggest themes of All the Answers is anxiety. I appreciated that Ava could overcome some of her fears to an extent - especially when beating them would prevent one of her worse fears - but that it wasn't just about powering through. Sometimes you have to find your own solutions instead of doing what other people tell you, and in the end, Ava starts to see a counselor, which was a wonderful message to see in a middle grade novel.
The characters in All the Answers ask a lot of tough questions, and Kate Messner handles them wonderfully for the age level this book is meant for. She doesn't shy away from things like death, cancer, and divorce, but at the same time, the story isn't dark either.
The Verdict: Wonderfully cute and smart.
Will I be adding this book to my library?: Yes!