All Together Now!

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
All Together Now! Book Poster Image
Moving story of quirky optimist finding hope after tragedy.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

A look at what it's like to face food and housing insecurity. Some literature references, including Billy Budd, Oedipus Rex, and The Crucible. Several quotes from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzche. Explanation and examples of haiku poetry.

Positive Messages

Story shows the power of optimism, trust, friendship, and forgiveness. Practice gratitude. Follow your heart. Fight for what you know is right. Speak up for others. Save some energy and care for yourself. Your actions have more of an effect on the people around you than you realize.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the characters are good people with good intentions. Amber is optimistic, positive, and helpful to others, even though she has a rough family situation. Ricky's mom, Donna, is a good adult role model to Amber and makes sure Amber is taken care of. Amber's friends support her unconditionally. The other adults in Amber's life are good people who appreciate her and help her out when she needs it. In terms of representation, Amber is presented as White and straight. Her friend Ty is Black. One of her freinds has as autism, another has challenges related to stuttering, and one has a congenital disorder that requires a wheelchair.

Violence

A character dies a violent death, but it isn't shown or described. Teens bully and body-shame kids at school. Some kids get an autistic kid to bully others, because he'll repeat whatever he's told. Twice Amber slaps and kicks kids who bully. Amber has flashbacks to verbal abuse when she was younger.

Sex

Amber talks about how her mom goes out looking for men to hook up with and hopefully live with. A few references to sexual themes in literature.

Language

Infrequent strong language includes "s--t," "butt," "a--hole" and abbreviated "a-hole," "hell," "damn," "bitch," "crap," "ass," "piss," "jizz," "boob," "bullcrap," and "frickin."

Consumerism

A few brands mentioned, including Halo, Mercedes, Volvo, Jeep, Friendly's, Reese's, M&Ms, Snickers, McDonald's, Fig Newtons, Gatorade, Ritz Crackers, and iPod.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Amber's mom smokes and has a drinking problem. She drinks in front of Amber and comes home drunk. Amber cooks with tequila and Jack Daniels.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that All Together Now! by Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook, is about a charismatic and quirky teen girl living in the back of a school bus while her mom tries to get them back on their feet. When tragedy strikes, the relentlessly optimistic Amber wonders whether all the praying, community service, and relationship building she's done over the years even matters. The story gives readers a look at what life is like for teens with food and housing insecurity. A few characters have special issues, such as autism, stuttering, and a congenital disorder. There's little sexy stuff and violence, though a character dies in a violent way that isn't shown. Characters swear a little ("s--t" and "a--hole") but more often use phrases like "freakin" and "bullcrap." The story could prompt discussions about how to help others, community building, and what to do when your faith is tested. Readers might also be interested in the movie All Together Now! inspired by this book.

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What's the story?

In ALL TOGETHER NOW! we meet the relentlessly optimistic and cheerful Amber Appleton. Her outlook is sunny despite her having had a rough life. Her dad left when she was little, and her mom can't support the two of them on her part-time school bus driver's salary. They live illegally in the back of the school bus after hours, sneaking out before daybreak so her mom won't lose her job. Food's scarce, and her mom has a drinking problem. Even with all this facing her, Amber is hopeful and helpful. She's friends with marginalized kids at school, volunteers in the community, and defends other students against bullies. When tragedy strikes, Amber's Catholic faith and hopefulness are severely tested. She grapples with some of the biggest questions life throws at us: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are some people given more than their share of burdens to carry throughout life? What's the point of even being in the world when it seems to only cause heartbreak? Amber struggles to rediscover her inner light, as she learns she doesn’t have to fight all her battles alone.

 

Is it any good?

A teen girl fights to regain her joy after tragedy strikes in this emotional journey through grief and hope. At the beginning of All Together Now!, self-described "freak" Amber Appleton fights against her uncertain, unhoused existence by relying on her optimistic outlook and upbeat nature. The story is told from Amber's point of view, and unfortunately her character voice gets tiresome at times. Author Matthew Quick was clearly trying for kooky, quirky teen girl, but the overuse of her peculiar slang is distracting, annoying, and unrealistic. She frequently uses words like "hooey," refers to people by odd acronyms and nicknames, and ends sentences with "Word? Word." "True? True." It distracts from the book's overall great message, which is that when you do good for the right reasons and build community where none exists, good things will happen.

The odd collection of characters Amber befriends is charming, and it's heartwarming and tear-jerking to watch them all come together to support her when she needs it most. The story maintains a good balance between heavy and light. Much of what happens isn't very realistic, but that doesn't matter too much here. Sometimes you just need to cheer on a sweet kid facing tough times.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way poverty and being unhoused are portrayed in books and movies. Does seeing Amber and her mom living in the back of a school bus in All Together Now! make you wonder whether anyone in your community might be facing these problems? Do you understand why kids like Amber might not want other people to know?

  • When faced with a sad situation, what helps you feel better and hopeful again?

  • How well do you think the novel deals with the issue of being unhoused? Did it make you feel more compassion and empathy for kids who don't have a house or apartment or room to live in? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age and grief tales

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