Nothing But the Truth (novel)
|Nothing But The Truth: A Documentary Novel|
|Media type||Print (hardcover, paperback)|
Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel is a 1992 novel written by Avi. The book is a young adult novel in a modified epistolary style through diary entries, personal letters, school memos and transcripts of dialogue. It tells the story of an incident in a New Hampshire town where a boy is suspended for humming the United States National Anthem as well as the effects of this story receiving national publicity. The main theme of the novel is the subjectivity of truth and that while individual statements may be true, taken separately they may not give an accurate picture of an event.
Philip Malloy is a track-obsessed ninth grader at Harrison High School in Harrison, New Hampshire. He has an English teacher, Margaret Narwin, and is doing very poorly in her class; he earns D for his grade and is therefore not allowed to try out for the track team. He does not tell this to his parents, and instead pretends that he no longer has an interest in trying out for the track team. Philip causes many distractions in Narwin's class such as humming the national anthem when he's meant to stand "at silent, respectful attention". After three days of humming, he is suspended from school by Dr. Joseph Palleni, the school's vice principal, when Philip refuses to apologize to Miss Narwin.
Philip then tells his parents that he was suspended for singing the National Anthem. Mr. Malloy (Philip's father) tells their neighbor Ted Griffin, who is running for the Harrison School District school board. Ted gives Phillip an interview with Ms. Jennifer Stewart, a reporter who was interviewing Mr. Griffin. Ms. Stewart pursues Philip's story about suspension. She speaks to the school superintendent, Dr. Albert Seymour (who says adamantly that there is no policy against singing the national anthem but is not aware of the context), the principal Dr. Gertrude Doane (who received a short memo on the subject), the assistant principal, Dr. Joseph Palleni (who is defensive about his level of involvement), and Miss Narwin (who seems stunned, and offers no comment to Ms. Stewart). After Ms. Stewart publishes a slanted newspaper article that quickly gains national attention, Philip is regarded by many as a patriotic victim. Meanwhile, Harrison School District is at their breaking point with elections coming up and the fear that the school could face budget cuts. Because of her vilification in the news, Miss Narwin is asked to "take a break from teaching" and she reluctantly agrees. She then chooses to resign and visit her sister in Florida. Ted Griffin uses Philip's story as a platform for election, and is elected to the Harrison School district school board. When Philip returns to school, he has trouble adjusting to his new-found fame and becomes an outcast. Soon his mother decides to transfer him to a private school called Washington Academy, despite her husband's protests against the idea since it would take up all his son's money for college. At Phillip's new school, he is asked to show his patriotism by singing along to "The Star-Spangled Banner". At that moment, he starts to cry and admits "I don't know the words".
The theme of distortion of the truth and people's willingness to disregard the truth to protect themselves is not only accomplished through the storyline, but also through Avi's unique style. Nothing but the Truth, which is a documentary novel, pulls together many different non narrative elements, such as memos, conversations, letters, diary,and phone conversations. Thematic symbolism, such as "the ides of march" from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, along with subtler implications (Phillip Malloy's name is similar to alloy, a mixture, in this case of the truth and of lies). Although these pieces are said to contain “facts” it is apparent to the reader throughout the novel that there is much discrepancy between these sources. Since these sources contain flaws, the real “truth” is not revealed by the end of the book. Another notable point made by the story is the ultimate inevitability of lies to fall apart: not only does his lying bring the girl on whom he has a crush to dismiss him as being a jerk to the innocent and kindhearted Miss Narwin, but he is also shown breaking down in front of his new class at the private school (as mentioned above), and he ends up exposed in his deceitfulness. Throughout the novel, Phillip's lie becomes larger and larger, and the damage it inflicts on himself and others around him is highlighted. Ms. Narwin is forced to resign earlier, Phillip is sent to a new school with his parents on the brink of divorce, and the district board's bill is not passed. Ted Griffin, the politician who takes advantage of the situation, however, becomes elected and put on the board.
- Odom, Katie (November 26, 1996). "Nothing But the Truth". Rome News-Tribune.
- Lipson, Eden Ross (January 28, 2003). "Children's Book Awards Announced". The New York Times.
- "Awards Are Announced For Children's Books". The New York Times. January 30, 1992.
- "School notes". The Kansas City Star. November 19, 1997.