Ava Anderson is taking a math test when she hears answers to her questions as she writes on scratch paper. She figures out that her pencil is magical and shares her secret with her best friend, Sophie. Messner is good at creating distinct traits in her characters and Sophie is a rambunctious, tumbling gymnast that uses the curb as a balance beam and does back handsprings when she finds out a boy likes her. She's impulsive and it gets her in trouble when she uses the pencil to feel important with other kids in her grade. When she starts to share secrets about others that hurt feelings, it is Eva that reigns her in.
The two friends balance each other out. Eva is neurotically worried about the future. She has so many fears that it can be crippling. Sophie, convinces her to take risks or lets her know when she's out-of-control. Eva is particularly worried about death. Her grandma passed away five years earlier and Eva's grandpa is in a nursing home. She's also concerned about her parents getting a divorce or her mom having cancer. Many of her fears come true so she seems justified in her worries, although it was appropriate that she saw a counselor at the end to help her deal with anxiety.
The plot is a bit overly ambitious with death and divorce and cancer. Seems like one could have been dropped. The subplot of romance is light with the girls interested in boys but no one is serious for very long. It's spot-on for most middle school behavior. The grandpa's storyline is easy to figure out early in the book but it isn't resolved until the end; however, the pencil twist and where the magic comes from was not predictable. Good fantasy writing explains the source of magical powers and while some might find this far-fetched, it makes for a stronger plot. Some criticized it and I know my readers that really don't like fantasy might struggle with this unbelievable part.
The humor helps lighten the heaviness of the topics and I especially enjoyed the father and his attempt to create some famous recipe that would draw people to his general store. A large superstore is coming to town and he is trying make his small grocery store stand out so that people will choose it over the other. When he starts an oven fire and then pulls out a donut that is charred on the outside and raw on the inside, it reminded me of my sister and me making brownies. I preheated the oven and my mom had sixteen boxes of cereal stashed inside (family of seven). I set the cereal on fire and my sister and I lined up like a fire brigade chucking cereal into the kitchen sink with the faucet on full blast. Later we cooked the brownies only to discover we'd read the recipe wrong and the inside was runny. I was 16 and she was 10-years-old. I'm still a hopeless cook, just like Ava's dad.