cover image All the Answers

All the Answers

Kate Messner. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61963-374-2

Ava Anderson, a 12-year-old chronic worrier, comes across a pencil that appears to be able to talk, telling her the answers to her questions about everything from mathematical formulas for a quiz to concerns over family members' health problems. Messner (Manhunt) has created a relatable, sympathetic character in anxious Ava, and her story is at its best when Ava's life remains centered around the norms of her school, friends, and multigenerational family, as well as the lighter dilemmas and possibilities the magic pencil raises, such as whether it's cheating to use it on homework, or which boy likes her best friend. However, despite the potential of the premise, it flounders a bit when too many worries are piled onto Ava's plate, overloading the story with serious concerns over dementia, breast cancer, gambling addictions, and the death of a loved one. Ava eventually comes to learn that "life isn't about knowing all the answers," but she must bear some heavy burdens in order to come to that knowledge. Ages 8%E2%80%9312. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Jan.)