Happy MMGM Monday, everyone!
Today, I'm sharing an early review of All the Answers by Kate Messner.
This is a fabulous, heartwarming MG that explores that happens when one girl finds a pen that gives her all the answers in life, including some truths that change her world.
MMGM is a feature hosted by the seriously fabulous Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 256 pages
Expected publication: January 27th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Format read: ARC via publisher
Messner's writing, plotting and spot-on characters makes this tale an engaging one, and will appeal to any readers who has ever wished that they could have all the answers.
What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Could find out who has a crush on who? When Ava Anderson finds an old pencil, she uses it for her math quiz like any other pencil. It’s when she writes a question in the margin that the magic occurs . . . as a voice that no one else seems to hear. With the help of her best friend, Sophie, Ava figures out the rules of this pencil’s magic, and as they discover many uses for it, Ava’s reliance on its answers grows. But when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava’s family, she sees that the bravest people just might be those who live without all the answers.
In a story as heartfelt as it is magical, Kate Messner gives readers a glimpse at their biggest fantasy: a magical pencil that helps them navigate the ups and downs of middle school life.
Ava is a young girl who often thinks about the worst-case scenarios in life. She worries about her parents divorcing; she's too scared to try out for jazz band or the track team, and is often too anxious to concentrate while taking math tests. But a chance discovery of a magical pencil with all the answers, soon changes her world.
Now that she can figure out the truths about those around her, Ava finds the strength and the courage to act to help others, while also improving her own life. But when a very scary truth is revealed to her, Ava realizes that sometimes, having all of the answers may not be the most perfect solution…
Messner's tale of a girl who uses a magical pencil to reshape her life, is as charming as it is thoughtful. Ava begins the book as an atypical heroine. She, like many other young adults, are impacted by the constant changes that come with burgeoning adolescence, and end up feeling worried with worst-case scenarios as a result.
But after she finds the pencil, Messner shows us how the pencil quickly becomes the one tool that helps Ava feel more in control of her own life. She's not only able to predict and anticipate the needs of those in her constantly-expanding world, but is also able to use the pencil to eliminate some of the external stressors - e.g. the relationship between her mother and her grandfather.
Throughout this subplot, Messner tactfully explores the idea that younger children are often caught up in family dynamics outside of their control, so it's particularly satisfying to see how Ava's intervention in that particular situation (amongst others!), helps to resolve long-standing tensions.
Even after the pencil reveals information that creates more tension in Ava's life, Messner asks the thoughtfully-placed question of whether it's better to have foresight of certain information or not. Though the pencil's information is undoubtedly useful in a certain case, Messner also points out that one is not necessarily living life, if they're spending all of their time anticipating problems that need to be fixed. It's how a person deals with unexpected challenges that help to truly begin to define a character, so it's both humbling and enlightening when readers see Ava putting aside her pencil once and for all.
Of special note: Older readers may have some difficultly reconciling the magic behind the pencil. However, I think that the reveal will ultimately be very appealing to younger readers. There's an underlying emphasis on the idea that those who love you will always be with you, and will be able to help guide you, until you learn to stand on your own two feet.
Also, Messner is very candid with Ava's anxiety throughout the book. We see Ava struggle with her nerves in different scenarios, and also as she begins to learn to cope with those challenges. I think that educators and parents will appreciate Messner's approach, and can use this book to engage readers with similar challenges.
Even though Ava doesn't end up fully curing her anxiety, or the worry that there will be always problems in her life that she won't able to solve, her adventures teach her how to seek out practical, accessible strategies to cope with those challenges. It's the recognition that life will never be simple, but there will always be healthy coping mechanisms, which makes this a must-read for any MG reader in my book.
I strongly recommend All The Answers for fans of realistic MG fiction, and for educators and parents who are looking for books that will encourage reluctant readers.
About the author:
KATE MESSNER is a former middle-school English teacher and the author of E. B. White Read Aloud Award-winner The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., Sugar and Ice, Eye of the Storm, Wake Up Missing, Capture the Flag, Hide and Seek, the Marty McGuire chapter book series, and three picture books, Seamonster and the Bossy Fish, Seamonster’s First Day, and Over and Under the Snow. She lives on Lake Champlain with her husband and two kids. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves hiking, kayaking, biking, and watching thunderstorms over the lake.