All the Answers

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
All the Answers Book Poster Image
Worried girl gets magical pencil in reassuring story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Use knowledge for good; make peace without getting all the answers; let go.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ava is a worrier, but she's a curious, sensitive, and intelligent girl who cares a lot about how others feel and what they need and about doing the right thing. She strives to understand the people and the world around her, and she goes out of her way to learn her grandpa's favorite music or make up with her friend Sophie. Her parents are incredibly engaged and present, and her teachers are persistent and involved in making sure she does her best and doesn't shy away from challenges.

Violence

A fairy tale references a graphic image of cut-off, bleeding feet. Ava falls during an adventure exercise and has bleeding knees. Ava has a vivid imagination full of sometimes graphic worries, such as flesh-eating bacteria, terrorist attacks, and school shootings. Lots of worries about health issues. A few characters die of old age; one faces cancer.

Sex

Ava and Sophie discuss which boys have crushes. Their favorite singer has kissed a guy twice. A boy dumps a girl to go out with another girl. A girl is dumped.

Language

"Stupid."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that All the Answers tells the story of Ava, who discovers a magic pencil that provides answers to every factual question she asks. The book deals mostly with the thrill of discovery and the thirst for knowledge, as well as the ethical dilemma inherent in the gift, but it also addresses a grandparent's death and a parent's cancer diagnosis. Ava's a worrier, and the book deals heavily with her imagining all the things that can go wrong. There are some heavy themes of loss, anxiety, and grief, along with provocative ideas that foster curiosity and very sweet intergenerational relationships that make this a great book for curious readers.

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What's the story?

When Ava and her best friend, Sophie, discover a pencil that answers factual questions when you write them in the margins of your paper, they are delighted and overwhelmed. They begin to ask it everything they can dream up, from test questions to which boys have crushes on Sophie. But soon Ava begins to realize that always getting the answers isn't right, and some things are simply too difficult to know in advance. What follows is a fun, provocative adventure that teaches them about the power of knowledge and how hard it can be to do the right thing.

Is it any good?

This is a deceptively simple book; it appears to be about a fun pencil, but it opens up a world of big questions about life, death, knowledge, and purpose that are incredibly moving. Here, Ava and her friends grapple with real-life middle schooler desires and questions -- Which boys like me? What's the answer to this science question? -- and much larger concerns, such as whether her parents will divorce or die and how to find a happy balance between what we can know and do something about and what we must give up to free will.

This is a great, reassuring book for kids who have a lot of worries, or kids dealing with an ill parent, or kids who have recently lost grandparents to illness or death. It's very thoughtful and has some heavy themes, but the overall feeling is about how to cope with whatever life throws your way. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how anxiety is portrayed in All the Answers. Have you read other books that deal with this subject? Does Ava seem like other worriers you've known?

  • Do you ever worry about "what if"? How can you calm yourself down if you work yourself up about a possible bad outcome?

  • What would you do with a magic pencil that had all the factual answers? What would you ask, and why? Do you think Sophie and Ava do the right thing? Why, or why not?

Book details

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