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Nothing but the Truth

Review

Nothing but the Truth

by Avi

When Avi’s novel, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, was published in 1991, it won a number of awards --- and, more importantly, sparked conversation among parents, teachers, school administrators and kids. Now, nearly 20 years later, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH is being reissued by Scholastic in a new paperback format --- just in time for a new generation of children and adults to consider in light of long-standing and more contemporary concerns.

In an author’s introduction, Avi notes that the most common responses he has received from readers of all ages have been those questioning the book’s status as fiction. For some, the issues Avi raises strike a little too close to home to be fabricated; for others, the “documentary” style of the novel seems to give it the tone of a nonfiction account.

And no wonder --- as Avi tells his story, he includes not only “transcripts” of conversations among all the major and minor players but also pages from the central characters’ diaries and letters, memos from school administrators, and newspaper clippings, all of which seem completely genuine and convincing. They combine to create a reading experience that is not only unusual and compelling but that, in its very format, encourages readers to reflect on the meaning of “truth” in similar documents they might encounter in their real lives.

At the center of NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH is ninth-grader Philip Malloy, who loves to run and wants more than anything to get on the high school track team. Thanks to a failing grade in Miss Narwin’s English class, however, Philip has to put his dreams of Olympic-level stardom on hold --- athletes need to receive all passing grades. Philip is convinced that Miss Narwin “has it in for me,” as he says. She chooses stupid books (like CALL OF THE WILD) for English class and doesn’t appreciate his answers to essay questions.

So when Philip is transferred to Miss Narwin’s homeroom, he tries hard to come up with some way to get himself transferred right back out again --- and out of her English class, too. But Philip’s chosen method --- humming along with the National Anthem instead of maintaining “respectful, silent attention” --- not only catches Miss Narwin’s notice but also the attention of local and national news outlets, radio talk show hosts, and the whole school district. Is Philip being suspended for just being patriotic, or does he have an ulterior motive? Does Miss Narwin resent him and other athletes? Who does the school district support and why? These are just a few of the questions raised by Philip’s story.

The documentary style of the novel --- particularly the numerous transcripts of conversations --- definitely lends itself to classroom discussion and dramatization. More importantly, though, this book is one of the best for sparking genuine cross-generational discussion. Parents and teachers who read it might find their sympathies drawn toward different characters and situations than younger readers do. And this difference of opinion can result in provocative, stimulating discussions about the fluidity of “truth,” the values of free speech and patriotism, and the structure and politics of public education.

In this reissued edition, Scholastic has packaged the novel’s text with numerous resources that will help guide and promote discussion even further. The full text of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a bio of and an interview with the author, a fact vs. fiction quiz, and a series of writing prompts all encourage readers to engage with the novel in fresh and exciting ways, furthering its place in contemporary discussions of issues --- from patriotism to family’s involvement in school affairs to the role of the media in disseminating and defining truth.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 1, 2010

Nothing but the Truth
by Avi

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2010
  • Mass Market Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0545174155
  • ISBN-13: 9780545174152