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All the Answers is an enjoyable novel, and so much more. It explores a yearning that humankind shares: having all the answers of the world, at your fingertips.

Say goodbye to questions and guesses, right? The world would be so much simpler!

Actually, when a shy middle schooler, Ava Anderson, finds a magical pencil that can answer any factual question, it just makes her life more complicated — not less. At first, it’s fun to ask the pencil trivial questions. As Ava’s best friend Sophie says, “It’s like we have a secret spy camera on the whole world!”

Later, the two friends realize this might not be a good thing. Nevertheless, Ava continues to ask the pencil her questions. Through the pencil, Ava learns that her mom has a health problem. The pencil shares this shocking information with a matter-of-fact tone, like it didn’t just throw a wrench in Ava’s life. Obviously, Ava is scared and worried by this news, and she feels that she has to face it alone. This is a huge burden looming over her.

Original photograph by Madeline Male, 14

As life with the pencil goes on, asking it questions spirals out of control. Even though the pencil’s answers are clear, it still creates confusion and anxiety in her life. Ava is a kind and thoughtful person, but stressful times can put anyone’s personality to the test. Even before she found the pencil, Ava was someone who worried about everything. Now, she uses the pencil to feed her worries and let them grow.

As one question leads to the next, Ava feels that she needs all the answers of the world. Plus, Ava realizes that pencils don’t last forever; there are only so many questions she can ask it before the lead runs out. As Messner writes, “Ava could imagine herself scraping desperately away at the wood with her fingers until they bled, trying to get the last bit of lead to give up its answers. And then what?”

This is one book that sticks with you long after you finish reading it. In a way, we can all relate to it. We don’t have all the answers, but maybe that’s a good thing. If we knew “all the answers,” then we might be so worried about “what-ifs” that we stop living fully. All the Answers made me think about my world in a positively upside down way.

After finishing All the Answers, I realized that strong tug-and-pull emotions distinguish the nuanced books from the all-happy books. The book brought me along a journey, letting me into Ava’s mind. If you’re looking to explore our human desire to have more answers, then this book is for you.


All the Answers by Kate Messner. Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children's Books, 2016. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!

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