All the Answers

256p. Bloomsbury. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619633742.
Gr 4–6—Middle schooler Ava always seems to be nervous about something: her math quiz, an upcoming field trip to an adventure park, the possibility of her parents divorcing. When she uses an old blue pencil found in a junk drawer to write a question in the margin of her math quiz, a voice that only she can hear tells her the correct answer. It turns out that the pencil can answer factual questions of all kinds, from what people think and feel queries about schoolwork. Ava and her friend Sophie use the magical power of the pencil to try to help the elderly people in Ava's grandpa's old age home and in the process make discoveries about her grandpa's thoughts and wishes. So far so good, but when Ava discovers through the pencil that her mother has breast cancer and that her mother is about to postpone her mammogram so that she can accompany Ava on her adventure park trip, Ava finds herself having to call on all her inner resources to ensure that her mother goes for her test. In the process, she surprises herself at what she is able to do. When Ava realizes that the magic pencil is inhabited by a piece of her long-dead grandmother's spirit, she helps to make her grandfather's last moments happier. Ava is a sympathetic and well-rounded character, and the relationship, conflicts included, between her and the more outgoing Sophie rings true. The writing is smooth and the dialogue believable.
VERDICT Firmly planted in realistic fiction with a single fantastical element, this story will appeal to Wendy Mass fans as well as those who love Messner's previous novels.

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