All the Right Stuff

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
All the Right Stuff Book Poster Image
Challenging ideas, big issues buoy story of Harlem teen.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

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.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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.


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.


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.


The occasional swear word and close euphemism ("s--t," "friggin'") does arise, but not to distraction.

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bywatershedschool February 23, 2021

Review From A 13 Year Old Boy

Have you ever just wanted to look into the life of a 16 year old boy and just have something to read just to relate this book is that.
Teen, 13 years old Written bywatershedschool... February 23, 2021

It was a 3 star book

Imagine your father just died shot in a store what are you going to do. All the Right Stuff is written by Walter Dean Myers. The book was published April 24, 2... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byTripFoot February 28, 2013

Great book, but some might find it boring

Actual rating: 4.5 stars.

I won't go into the socratic arguments part; I feel CSM has covered it nicely.

But other than that, why is this book so good?... Continue reading

What's the story?

Sixteen-year-old Paul DuPree and his mom are awakened one night at 3 a.m. by New York City cops, breaking the news that Paul's dad, who's been in and out of their lives, was just killed during a robbery. Paul's determined to be a better person and have a better life than his often-jailed father, but he hasn't thought much about how to make it happen. The summer job he's landed through his school's community program, which has him helping an opinionated old man make soup for senior citizens, soon has him asking big questions about life and the people in his neighborhood.

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 dialoguesWalter 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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the rules, written and unwritten, that determine who wins and loses in life. If you get off to a "bad" start, is there anything you can do to change things, or are you just doomed?

  • Do you think Paul will have a better life than his father? Why or why not? Do you think Keisha will make it to college?

  • Sly seems to have gone to college, gotten a good education, and turned to crime anyway. Why do you think this might be the case?

Book details

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