Whether or not I would read All the Answers wasn't even up for debate. It's a new Kate Messner MG and those are always a popular commodity among the kids I work with. I always enjoy them myself too.
Ava has a math test and needs a pencil. Grabbing one old blue one from a junk drawer, she is on her way and can focus on worrying about how she always forgets what she needs when taking a test no matter how much she studies. But a strange thing happens when she takes the test. She writes down a question and a voice answers. Soon Ava realizes the voice is coming from the pencil itself, but only the person holding the pencil can hear it. With her best friend Sophie, Ava begins to explore exactly what the pencil knows and what it can do. The girls decide to use the pencils powers to help others like the people who live with Ava's grandfather at the nursing home. Ava's worries about her family soon begin to consume her and she uses the pencil as a way to address them and soon learns things she rather wished she didn't know.
Ava is a worrier. She worries excessively. She worries so much has turned it into an art form where she is able to dodge any activity that scares her too much. What Messner has created with Ava is a picture of what anxiety looks like in a young person and I think it is one that many readers will understand and relate to. Because a lot of the things Ava spends her time obsessing over are at least passing worries for most kids her age: parents' marriage, parents' health, money issues, friend issues, school issues, fear of failure. This book touches on all of these and does so with exactly the right touch. Ava is such a real person and I truly felt everything she was feeling as I read the book. Her relationships with other people bring out crucial parts of her character. Messner does an excellent job of portraying intergenerational family life and the everyday squabbles, victories, joys, and defeats a family shares together. Ava's journey with pencil and what she discovers is realistic and I loved what happens to her when she goes on her adventure field trip.
Most especially, I love the idea of the pencil itself. It's the perfect hook for a book. Who wouldn't want a pencil who would give them answers to life's questions? How would you use it? What would you ask? The mechanics of the pencil and all the things the girls attempt to do with it make for a quick paced story with plenty of pitfalls and highlights. The pencil teaches Ava, but only because she is willing to learn and grow. She learns just as much from opening her eyes and seeing what is around her. It's a really great journey.
All the Answers is a story about family, love, and learning to take risks. It has some twists. It contains laughter and tears. Like all of Messner's books, I suspect it is one that will be read often. (At least in this house-my daughter loves all her books.)
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Bloomsbury, via NetGalley. All the Answers goes on sale January 27th.