All the Things That Could Go Wrong


By Stewart Foster

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A moving and beautifully written story about what can happen when two completely different boys are forced to put aside their differences, for fans of Wonder.

There are two sides to every story.

Alex’s OCD is so severe that it’s difficult for him to even leave his house some days. His classmate Dan is so angry that he lashes out at the easiest target he can find at school: Alex. When their moms arrange for Alex and Dan to spend time together over winter break, it seems like a recipe for certain disaster…until it isn’t. Once forced together, these two sworn enemies discover that there is much more to each other than they ever knew.


Alex: This is me

My Worry List

1. Everybody is going to die.

2. The glass in the aquarium tanks is going to crack on the school trip tomorrow and all the water will pour out and drown everybody in my class and Mr. Francis.

3. It won’t happen if I stay home, but if I don’t go I’ll feel bad for not telling anyone and I’ll feel even worse for being the only person in my class who is still alive.

4. All the fish will pour out of the tanks and flap around on the floor with their mouths wide open. But if they flap hard enough maybe they’ll make it out the aquarium doors, across the beach, and into the sea.

5. All the fish are going to die. They won’t survive in the sea because they’re used to being fed in their tanks and all the bigger fish will eat them up.

6. I’m worried about my worries. I could tell Mum and she’d phone the school and warn them what’s going to happen. But everyone would laugh and think I’ve gone crazy.

If I tell Mum my worries, she’ll worry too. She hates it when I’m worried and I hate it when she worries about me. I could go on the trip and die with all the others, but then Mum and Lizzie would be left at home on their own when I’m gone.


Dan: Sharks and dolphins

“There are four hundred and forty different species of shark in the world, and they’re split into eight categories, from the really small ones, like the catfish, to the medium-size hammerheads, right up to the huge whale sharks in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.”

The aquarium guide holds his arms out as wide as he can reach. “You may have seen whale sharks on TV—they’re often mistaken for actual whales—but you can tell them apart by the ridge on their head and the sharpness of their teeth.”

The guide points to his own teeth and they light up in the dark. Behind him, fish and tiny turtles are swimming around in a giant tank full of colored lights. There are tanks all around me. It’s like I’m in the water with the fish. I could reach out and touch them if they’d keep still. A big yellow fish swims above my head, slows, twitches its tail, and then disappears behind me.

“Dan.” I feel a tap on my shoulder, and then Mr. Francis bends down and whispers in my ear. “Are you listening?” He points at the guide, who’s now showing my class a picture of a shark. The big yellow fish swims back over my head.


Mr. Francis turns my head to face the front. The guide starts talking again.

“You can get an idea of how big it is when you compare it with the size of the people on the boat.” The guide points at the picture on the wall. The whale shark is big and gray, and loads of people are standing on the deck, pointing cameras at it. It’s so big that if it opened its mouth, ten people would fit inside, including me. I wonder if this one ate all the people on the boat after the picture was taken.

“Does it eat them?” I ask.

“Sorry?” The guide shades his eyes with his hand and looks for me in the dark.

“If you want to ask a question, raise your hand.” Miss French stands on tiptoe.

“Go on, Dan. Put your hand up,” says Mr. Francis.

I wave my hand in the air. The entire class turns around and looks at me.

“Ah, there you are,” says the guide. “Yes, young man,” he says. “What was your question?”

“Does it eat people? Does it bite people and tear them apart and splat blood everywhere like in Jaws?”

The class laughs. I laugh too.

“Boom!” I lift up my arms and pretend to shoot a harpoon into a shark’s mouth. The class laughs again.

“Okay, okay,” says Mr. Francis. “Settle down.”

The guide smiles. “No, not every shark is like the one in Jaws. They’ve got a bad reputation, but they don’t all eat people. In fact, very few do.”

“Do those?” I point at two sharks circling, chasing each other’s tails behind his head.

“No,” he says. “They’re too small.”

“What about when they grow up?” Sophie giggles beside me.

“This is as big as they get. Now I’d just like to show you the silvers—the tiny silver fish that you see floating around in schools. In the ocean, these can be schools of up to a mile long.” The guide keeps talking, but I’m not really listening anymore because I’m watching the two sharks as they chase each other around a rock in the middle of the tank.

“Sir!” I put my hand in the air again. “Sir!”

The guide looks at his watch, then at Miss French.

“I think it might be best if we let them ask questions at the end.”

“But it’s important,” I say.

“Okay,” says Miss French. “Last one, Dan. What is it?”

“I think those two sharks have a crush on each other.”

“Okay, Dan,” says Mr. Francis. “I think that’s enough of that. Mr. Giles, perhaps you’d like to lead us on to the next tank.” The class starts to walk off with Miss French. “Not you, Dan.”

“But, sir, I—”

“Come here!”

Sophie and George C. grin as they walk past me.

“You two get a move on, and, Dan, you stand still.” Mr. Francis bends down so his head is level with mine. Two puffer fish swim behind him.

“Dan, listen to me: you need to settle down. It’s all very well you messing around, but you’re…”

I try to listen to what he says, but it’s hard not to laugh when the puffer fish make him look like he’s got elephant ears. Mr. Francis lifts up his hand and shows me three fingers.

“That’s the third time I’ve told you today.”


“But nothing. This is a school trip; we’re not going to be allowed to visit these places if you misbehave. You’re here to learn, not be the joker. Do you understand?”

I look over his shoulder. Sophie and George C. have stayed behind and are standing by a tank like they’re waiting for me to act up or do something funny.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes. But I don’t want to come again anyway.”

“I don’t think you mean that.”

“I do. That old man is weird, and sharks that don’t eat people are boring.”

Mr. Francis goes to reply but stops as Miss French walks back around the corner.

“We’re moving on to the next tank,” she says.

“Okay,” says Mr. Francis. “Come on. Let’s go and see the crabs.”

I follow him into a tunnel where tiny silver fish swim beside us as we walk. I blow out my cheeks and I think I hear Mr. Francis do the same, or it might be the sound of air bubbling in the tanks.

I walk ahead and catch up with Sophie and George C. at the end of the tunnel.

“What did he say?” asks Sophie.

“Nothing much.”

“He’s an idiot.”

“Yeah,” I say.

I don’t really think he is. For a start, he’s better than Mr. Gough, my math teacher, who just sucks on cough drops and stares at the computer all lesson.

We walk into the next room and bump into the back of the others in the dark. The aquarium is like a massive cave: it seems to get darker the farther in you go. I hear the tour guide say something about staying together or we’ll get lost.

“We found someone last week who’d been here for two years, and he’d missed taking his GCSEs.”

“I imagine some of them would like that,” says Mr. Francis.

“I would!”

“Yes, Dan, I think we all know that.”

The guide starts to talk about the leatherback sea turtle, how it swims in currents across the ocean and then crawls onto beaches and lays its eggs in the sand. I rest my head against the glass and watch the tiny silver fish shoot off in all directions. I don’t need a tour guide to show me around, because I would never get lost in here. I’ve been here so many times with my big brother that it’s like I’ve got a map of the fish tanks in my head. We used to come down on Sundays and he’d help me sneak under the turnstiles when the security guard wasn’t looking. I didn’t need to listen to the tour guide then either, or look at the pictures, because Ben would tell me everything.

“If you cut an arm off a starfish, it grows another one like worms grow new heads.”

“If you put your hand in a tank of piranhas, they’ll eat all the flesh and the bones.”

I’d tell him I wouldn’t dare put my hand in there. Ben said he wouldn’t either. The last time we came here he told me how the biggest fish got to be so big.

“See that big fat one?” He pointed at a large yellow fish swimming on its own. “Well, it used to be a little fish, but then it started to eat all the other fish and it got big and strong. That’s what you’ve got to do.”

“But I don’t like fish,” I said.

He laughed, said I knew what he meant. Then we heard footsteps getting close, and Ben searched around on the floor for old tickets that people might have dropped the day before. He found two and gave one to me. The footsteps got louder. Then we saw a shadow and the glow of a flashlight. It was the security guard. I turned to run, but Ben grabbed my arm.

“It’s okay,” he whispered. “They change the colors of the tickets every day, but he won’t be able to tell the difference in the dark.”

“What are you two up to?”

“Nothing,” said Ben. “Just looking at the fish.”

“Mmmm.” The security guard shined the flashlight in our faces. My heart was thudding, but Ben just stood still and handed him our tickets. The guard shined his flashlight on them. Ben nudged me. I could see his teeth as he smiled in the dark. The guard gave the tickets back.

“Okay,” he said. “Just don’t hang around; we’re closing in twenty minutes.” He walked away.

Ben ruffled my hair. “Told you,” he said.

I tap the glass gently. The silver fish gather around my fingertip like they’re trying to eat it. I wish Ben were here now. It was more fun with him than with these other kids on a school trip.

“Dan! Dan!” I feel a nudge in my ribs. Sophie’s grinning at me. Her teeth and her blonde hair have been turned purple by the lights. “This is boring,” she whispers. “Let’s go to the souvenir shop.”

“Yeah.” George C. leans in. “See what we can get.” He slides along the glass and Sophie and me follow. Mr. Francis and Miss French are watching the rest of the class as they lean over the tank and touch the turtles and crabs.

A bright light shines through a crack as George C. opens the door. I look back at the teachers and the class. The guide is telling them about the crabs, that they’re got exo-blah-blah-blah—a big word for saying crabs’ skeletons are on the outside of their bodies.

Sophie nudges me in the back. “Go on,” she whispers. “Now!”

I check one more time and we slide out the door. I blink in the bright lights of the souvenir shop.

There are two teachers and some kids in blue uniforms from another school walking around. Sophie and me pass books about fish and the ocean and stop by a shelf full of plastic dolphins and sharks. I stand on tiptoe and look over the top of the shelves. There’s a woman behind the cash register ticking off a list and a security guard by the turnstiles that let people out and in.

Sophie opens her eyes wide and nods toward the dolphins and sharks.

“Go on,” she says. “It’s your turn. I did it when we went to the museum in London.” I check that the woman and the security guard aren’t looking.

Sophie nudges me again. “Now!”

The security man blows his nose. The woman at the register ticks her list. I reach out, grab a dolphin, and put it into my trouser pocket. Sophie grins at me.

I reach out and grab another. I started doing it at Christmas. I was really scared at first, but Ben said it’s like kicking a football: the more you practice, the better you get. He used to do it when we came here together. I wouldn’t know he’d taken anything until we got outside and he’d give me a plastic turtle or a rubber octopus and say it was a present.

I pick up more sharks and dolphins and jam them in my pockets. I go to take some more, then stop as the door opens. The guide walks into the shop with the rest of my class behind him. Mr. Francis is at the back, rubbing his beard and nodding like he’s counting we’re all here. George C. and George W. walk up to me. They look and sound just like each other and have their hair stuck up with gel. I slowly pull back my blazer and show them my trouser pockets.

“Wicked.” George W. laughs. “But how are you going to get them out of here?”

“Easy.” I start to stroll down the aisle, but my pockets are bulging like I’m a cowboy with guns. I’m going to get caught if I walk out like this.

“Five minutes, everyone!” shouts Mr. Francis.

I stop at the end of the aisle where Elliott Gibbs is standing on his own, looking at a map of the oceans.

“Stay there,” I say to him. Elliott flinches.

“It’s okay. I’m not going to hit you or anything.”

“Not this time anyway,” Sophie adds.

“What do you want, then?” Elliott says in a wimpy voice.

“Just stand still. I need your bag,” I say.

“But I haven’t got anything in there.” He squirms as Sophie pulls one of his straps.

“Stay still,” she says, “or we’ll throw all your stuff on the beach and then we’ll get your weirdo friend when we’re back at school. Where is the little squirt anyway?”

Elliott shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“Too scared that we’d get him here?”

Elliott looks at the ground and mumbles something.

“What did you say?” Sophie steps closer to him.

Elliott looks up. “I said, why do you have to pick on Alex?”

“Aww,” says Sophie. “He cares more about his little friend than he does about himself.” The she pushes her face up close to Elliott like she’s looking in a mirror. Compared to Elliott, she’s so big and strong she could knock him over against the shelves. “But you’re not his friend now… are you?!”

“No,” Elliott says. “I don’t talk to him anymore.”

“Good.” Sophie holds Elliott still. I take the dolphins and sharks out of my pockets and slip them into his bag. He tries to turn away as me and Sophie pull the straps tight.

“Don’t tell anyone,” she says.

I push Elliott in front of me and we shuffle forward in the line.

The security guard nods like he’s counting sheep going into a pen. I nudge Elliott in the back and he walks through the turnstile.

“Thanks!” I give the security guard the thumbs-up like Ben used to do.

“That’s okay, son,” he says. “Be sure to come again.”

“I will.”

My heart beats fast as I push through the turnstile and run out to the seafront. Ben said his heart used to do that too.

Alex: A little fish

“Love, how much longer?”

Mum knocks on the door.

“Alex, can you hear me?”


“How much longer? You missed school yesterday and you’re making everyone late today.”

“I know, Mum. I’m trying.”

I squirt the antibacterial soap on my hands and put them under the tap. The water’s so hot it stings the cracks and sores on my fingers. I wince, squirt more soap, and rinse them under the tap again. As usual, I’m stuck in the bathroom. The door isn’t jammed locked and my bum’s not stuck to the toilet seat with superglue. But I’m stuck, stuck and I can’t stop washing. My hands are clean, but as soon as I touch the taps to turn them off, my hands are dirty again, and even if I didn’t turn the taps off, there are germs on the towel. There are germs everywhere I look. On the taps, on the towels, on the light switch, on the door handle.

Another knock on the door.

“Alex, love.” Mum’s back again. “Come on! Elliott’s dad is outside. You know he has to get to work on time and you’re going to make me late for work too.”

Water’s steaming up into my face. I hear Elliott’s dad beeping the car horn outside, and I don’t want to make Mum late because last week she got a warning from her supermarket boss.

I’ll just have one last wash before I go. I rub my hands together; they sting and they’re red-raw like a pomegranate.

But they’re clean finally.

Turn the tap off, I think. Turn the tap off. Use your elbow like doctors do in hospitals.

I bend over, knock the tap with my elbow. It turns a little. I knock it again, then again until the stream of water is a dribble. Mum will turn it off after I’m done. My hands are throbbing. I hold them in the air. The water drips down my forearms to my elbows.

Knock, knock.

“Mum, I said I’m coming.”

“No, Alex, it’s me. Hurry up, I need to pee.” It’s my little sister, Lizzie. “Come on. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it!”

“No! Don’t! I’m coming!” I bend down and push my elbow against the door handle. It flips down and springs back up again.

“Alex! I’m going to go.”

“No! Don’t!”

I have to get out. I knock the handle again, pull it quickly toward me at the same time, and the door springs open. Lizzie’s on the landing with her legs crossed.

“At last!”

She rushes past me and sits on the toilet. She smiles with relief as her pee trickles into the toilet.

“That’s gross,” I say. “You didn’t even close the door.”

She grins and says something back, but I don’t hear because Mum’s standing beside me with my school bag in her hands.

“Quick,” she says. “You can still catch them.” She hangs my bag around my neck like a medal. “Go on,” she says. “Your wipes are in there and your gloves are on the kitchen table.”

“Okay,” I say. “Be safe.”

“Alex. We’ve not got time for that now.”

“You have to say it. ‘Be safe.’ I can’t go unless you do.”

Mum sighs. “Okay, be safe. Now off you go.”

If she didn’t say “be safe,” lots of bad things could happen: a row of display shelves could fall on her at work, or she could get run over by a delivery truck; Lizzie might fall over in the playground playing netball, or the office that Dad guards could collapse and he’d be trapped under the bricks and glass. Mum, Dad, and Dr. Patrick say these things won’t happen, that it’s just bad thoughts playing tricks, and I know that’s true, but I still can’t stop the thoughts jumping into my mind. But at least my class didn’t die at the aquarium yesterday, because there was nothing about it on the news last night.

I hurry down the stairs, keeping my hands clear of the banister as I jump the last four and run into the kitchen. My gloves are on the table, just like Mum said. I put them on and then run around the side of the house. Elliott’s dad’s car isn’t there. I run out into the street, but I’m too late; all I can see are the red taillights of the car as it turns onto the main road. I sigh. He did warn me he couldn’t wait past eight because he’d be late for work. I’ll have to walk to school now, but it takes ages. I’ll miss homeroom again and have to walk into history when they’re halfway through the lesson. I hate doing that. Everyone turns and looks at me like I’ve just arrived from Mars.

“Alex! Alex!” Mum’s shouting at me from her bedroom window. “Come back in. I’ll give you some money for the bus.”

“It’s okay. I’ll walk.”

“It’s not okay. You can’t afford to miss any more lessons.”

Mum’s right, but I don’t want to catch the bus because it’s full of people’s germs on the windows and on the stop button. I can’t touch that button. The last time I was on the bus it went two stops past the school before someone pressed the button. I was lucky because if no one had been on the bus, I’d have ended up at my nan and granddad’s in Worthing. I like going there, but I won’t learn anything useful. All Nan talks about are her neighbors, and Granddad is always busy washing his car.

I walk back to the house, checking the pavement for bird and dog poop. There are two new white marks since last night and a brown skid mark where someone has spread poop across the pavement. Was it me? Did I step on it as I was rushing out? I check the bottoms of my shoes. The front soles are clean, but there’s something brown in the groove on my left heel.

I pass Lizzie’s friend, Molly, waiting by the gate with her mum. Her mum says something, but I’m too busy looking at the ground. I walk past them, down the side of our house. Lizzie comes toward me with her school bag on her back. She’s in Year Six at the school I used to go to.

“Why are you looking at your shoes?” she says. “Have you got poop on them?”

“I think so.”


I tell her to shush. It’s bad enough having poop on me without her going, “Eww!”

“Sorry,” she whispers. “Mum says it’s Mr. King’s fault because he doesn’t take his dog to the park. I’ll tell him if you want.”

“It’s okay.”

“I will. I don’t mind.” My sister is very loud and very annoying, but she does care about me lots.

I start to walk on. “I’ll see you later.”

“Can we play LittleBigPlanet later?”

And she’s good to play LittleBigPlanet with.

“Yeah,” I say. “Maybe.”

“Great!” Lizzie runs off without even looking where she’s going, and I wish I could do the same.

I open the back gate. Mum’s standing at the door.

“What’s wrong?”

I point at my shoe. “I think I stepped in poop.”

“Let me see.”

“You’re not supposed to help,” I say.

“I’ll only look.”

“But Dr. Patrick said.”

“I know what he said, but you’ll never make it to school if I don’t.”

She’s right. I won’t be able to walk another step if I don’t wash my shoe, but she isn’t supposed to help. Dr. Patrick says it’s like she’s making my OCD and my worries okay if she does. But Mum can’t help it. She says she hates to see me struggle. She says it makes her feel like a bad mum, but she’s not a bad mum: she’s the best mum in the world.

I slip my shoes off. She picks one up and lifts it to her—

“Don’t sniff—oh, Mum! Gross!”

“It’s okay,” she says. “I think it’s a leaf.”

“Are you sure?”


“Are you really?”


“Sorry.” I lean against the worktop. This is the second time I’ve been late this week and I was late twice last week as well. If only I had been five seconds quicker. If I hadn’t washed my hands for one last time, I would have been in the car, swapping Euro cards with Elliott instead of watching Mum clean poop, which she says is a leaf, from my shoe. My shoe! It brushed against my trousers as I walked; now the poop’s on my other trouser leg, on my socks, on my skin.

“Alex, where are you going now?”

“Umm.” I’m halfway across the kitchen toward the hall. “There’s something I’ve got to do.”


Dog-poop-trousers-legs-socks-skin. Dog-poop-trousers-legs-socks-skin. My thoughts tumble around and around in my head like my clothes in a washing machine.

“Alex, no. Not the bathroom again.”


“You can’t, love. It’ll be another hour before you come out.”

“Can I just write it down, then?”

“Okay. But promise: not the bathroom.”

“I promise.”

“Okay. I’ll check the other shoe and then call the school.”

I climb the stairs and walk past my sister’s bedroom. I wish I could just get up like she does, then get dressed, get washed, eat breakfast, and go to school on time. It sounds dead simple. It’s only four things, but I can’t do any of them without being late.

I sit down on my bed with my pencil and pad. This is my worry pad. I have to write all my worries down when things get really bad. Dr. Patrick told me I had to note down the first things that come into my head because that way I identify the real worries. I rip last night’s worry page out. It doesn’t count if I just read the old list. My worries don’t stay the same; they change all the time.

My Worry List

1. Everyone is going to die.

2. Dan and Sophie will be waiting to pick on me as soon as I walk into homeroom.

3. Mr. Hammond will lean too close to me in math and his breath and spit will go on my face and clothes.

4. I might have to sit at the desk at the front by the window in history. The one with chewing gum underneath.



  • *"Honest and painful...its characterizations and settings are vivid and powerful. A thoughtful narrative that will help middle grade readers build empathy and compassion."—School Library Journal, starred review
  • "For fans of Wonder looking for more ways to appreciate tolerance and diversity."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "The novel does a nice job of showing both sides of the duo's ostensibly contentious friendship.... Entirely convincing."
  • "Insightful... As the characters come to grips with each other's behavior, readers will find themselves rooting for both protagonists."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Well paced and engaging. This novel is a timely text for today's youth."—School Library Connection

On Sale
Sep 4, 2018
Page Count
336 pages

Stewart Foster

About the Author

Stewart Foster was named a New Author to Watch by the Guardian and was an Amazon Rising Star for his adult novel, published in the United Kingdom. Bubble Boy was his first book for young readers. Totally obsessed with soccer and cycling, he lives in Bath, England, with his two daughters, Lois and Tallulah.

Learn more about this author