Review: All the Answers by Kate Messner

Middle Grade Madness

All the Answers by Kate Messner

What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Would you know what your teachers were thinking? When Ava Anderson finds a scratched up pencil she doodles like she would with any other pencil. But when she writes a question in the margin of her math quiz, she hears a clear answer in a voice no one else seems to hear.

With the help of her friend Sophie, Ava figures out that the pencil will answer factual questions only – those with definite right or wrong answers – but won’t predict the future. Ava and Sophie discover all kinds of uses for the pencil, and Ava’s confidence grows with each answer. But it’s getting shorter with every sharpening, and when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava’s family, she realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers…

Title: All the Answers
Author: Kate Messner
Source: ARC from Netgalley
Publication date: January 27, 2015

I received All the Answers from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I kind of lost interest in reading All the Answers sometime after receiving it. I kept putting it off, but once I did start reading, I really got into it! I thought Ava was going to be a little younger than she is because of the whole magic pencil thing. She’s in seventh grade, which seems a little old for a magic pencil, but it puts her in the age range I prefer reading about so I won’t complain about it.

When Ava finds a pencil that actually speaks to her when she asks it factual questions, she realizes it can be very useful. Having it aid her on tests seems a little too much like cheating (because it is!), but using it to find out what boys have crushes on her best friend Sophie isn’t wrong, is it? Ava is a Worrier. “What if” are the worst words in the world to her. She worries about everything and tries to avoid doing the things that scare her the most, like trying out for the school band. She’s even worked out a system: telling her Sophie that she’ll try things and then just not showing up. But some things you can’t avoid, and when the pencil tells Ava something scary, she has to face it instead of hide.

All the Answers has a fun cast of characters. Ava’s parents are very present in her life and in the book, and she has an older brother Marcus and a younger sister Emma. Her grandmother on her father’s side lives with the family, although she’s not mentioned much other than taking constant naps (which concerns Ava). Her grandfather on her mother’s side lives in a nursing home and the whole family, along with Sophie, visits weekly. Ava and Sophie, with the help of the pencil, are able to help the other residents there. It’s fun to watch them figure out how to help these people who can’t verbalize their desires because of strokes and dementia.

There are several running gags throughout the book. Ava’s younger sister Emma is one of four Emmas in her class, so she tries out a new name — two of her choices are Electron and Turpentine — every day. Their father owns a store and is trying desperately to attract attention and new business. His idea is to have the world’s largest or world-famous something, but finding that thing proves harder than you would think. He’s full of ideas, but almost every possibility seems taken by some other store or attraction or town.

My favorite part of the book is the school field trip to an obstacle course. This is no ordinary obstacle course. It has things like climbing walls, zip lines and tightropes! Ava tries to get out of it, of course, but when that doesn’t work, she ends up surprising herself and gaining a lot of confidence. The pencil has helped up to this point, but now it’s all Ava.

Kids with anxiety like Ava will be able to relate to this book. All the Answers is the first book I’ve read by Kate Messner, but I really like her writing so I know I’ll be reading more.

4 stars



  1. Haha! Sounds like a fun read. I’d love to have that pencil with all the answers!
    Kim@Time2Read recently posted…January Challenge Check-InMy Profile