A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Working at the soup kitchen, Paul quickly starts to learn about the social contract and other concepts he's never heard of. Young readers who follow along will get a head start on Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, and other philosophers, as well as an opportunity to contemplate social issues -- plus culinary expertise about the fine points of gumbo.
A strong message about being responsible and taking charge of your own life. Paul's determined not to go the way of his father; his confusion arises from the mixed messages in his neighborhood culture about who's responsible for the state in which people find themselves and what's to be done about it. Elijah at the soup kitchen has one set of messages; Sly, the local big shot who always has shady deals going, has another.
Positive Role Models
Elijah in particular is a positive role model, teaching Paul everything from cooking skills to moral concepts while also constantly challenging him to think. Some of the seniors contribute wise counsel. Other people who don't just passively accept their fate but try to make something of their lives -- from teenage Keisha practicing her basketball in hopes of getting into college so she and her baby will have a good life to Paul himself -- stand in contrast to perennial players of the victim card.
Violence & Scariness
As the book begins, Paul is told about his father's death in an accidental shooting. While it's clear that the neighborhood is sometimes dangerous and some of the people are menacing (Paul and his friend go out of their way to avoid Sly and his crew), and the old folks tell tales of the old days when lynchings were common, no actual violence befalls any of the characters. An art film by Paul's cousin features a pair of young junkies, one of whom is revealed to have died of an overdose after the film was finished.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Paul's summer job includes mentoring Keisha, a 17-year-old student who needs extra help because she fell behind in school when she had her baby. While his friend immediately jumps to the conclusion that Paul's trying to take advantage of the situation, he behaves honorably.
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The occasional swear word and close euphemism ("s--t," "friggin'") does arise, but not to distraction.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drugs were part of Paul's father's downfall, so they aren't glamorized or treated positively. There's a strong suspicion that Sly is in the illegal drug trade, not just handing out free prescriptions to senior citizens in the 'hood.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that All the Right Stuff, by distinguished author Walter Dean Myers, is the story of a Harlem teen's summer job at a soup kitchen. Not unlike Socrates of old, Elijah the soup-kitchen man leads young Paul along the path of self-discovery by asking lots of questions, mostly about issues Paul has never thought about before. The book might be aimed at getting a young urban audience to think about the big issues, but it's a good read and should provoke deep thinking among all teens. Hip street dialogue includes the occasional swear word and euphemism ("s--t," "friggin'"), and there's a context of junkies but no drug use. An accidental shooting death kicks off the book, but no actual violence befalls any of the characters.
Is It Any Good?
Some may find this book long on discussion and short on action, but others may find it a good modern-day addition to the Socratic dialogues. Walter Dean Myers is the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, appointed by the Library of Congress, and the recipient of multiple Newbery and Coretta Scott King awards, among other honors. (His books include Monster and Sunrise Over Falluja.) He's zealous about the vital importance of reading, especially to economically disadvantaged people, and ALL THE RIGHT STUFF, packed as it is with challenging ideas set in the context of urban life, walks the talk.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.