Nothing but the Truth: A Documentary Novel
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First hardcover edition
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Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel is a 1992 novel written by Avi. It tells the story of an incident in a New Hampshire town called Harrison where a boy is suspended from school 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 New Hampshire. He blames his English teacher, Margaret Narwin, for his poor performance in her class, and he earns a D for his grade. Since he is no longer eligible to try out for the track team, he avoids telling his parents and instead pretends that he no longer has an interest in trying out. Throughout his time in school, the number of class time disturbances increases. His humming the national anthem when he's meant to stand "at silent, respectful attention. Mrs. Narwin asks him to stop multiple times. After three days of humming, he is given the chance to apologize to Narwin for his disrespect towards her. After Philip refuses to express regret, Vice Principal Dr. Joseph Palleni is called by district mandated procedure to suspend him for two days.
Philip then tells his parents that he was suspended for singing the National Anthem. Mr. Malloy (Philip's father), shares this with their neighbor, Ted Griffen, who is running in the school board. He arranges an interview between Philip and a local journalist named Jennifer Stewart. Ms. Stewart decides to pursue Philip's story about the suspension and goes on to speak to many of the adults involved in the incident: the school superintendent, Dr. Albert Seymour; the principal, Dr. Gertrude Doane; the vice principal, Dr. Joseph Palleni; and Ms. Narwin. Ms. Stewart's slanted newspaper article quickly garners national attention when it is picked up by the Associated Press. Philip and his "anthem singing" controversy are soon elevated into the national spotlight; leading many to laud him for his patriotism and condemn the school's (alleged) attempts to stymie it. Meanwhile, Harrison School District faces a critical school board election bearing significant implications over the school's future. With funding already in shortage, there is an urgent concern that the school could suffer greatly from further budget cuts. In the midst of the controversy, Ms. Narwin is asked to take a break from teaching, and she reluctantly agrees. This is soon followed by her resignation and she leaves to visit her sister in Florida. After using Philip's story as a platform, Ted Griffen is elected to the Harrison School district school board. At this post, he declines to extend much needed funding to Harrison High school in a demonstration of disapproval for their handling of the incident. When Philip returns to school, he has trouble adjusting to his dubious notoriety and becomes an outcast. His role in the dismissal of Ms. Narwin and his invitation of a media firestorm on the Harrison community fuel feelings of resentment toward him from his peers. He is harassed by other students both on the bus and in the classroom while his crush, Allison, openly resents him for the removal of her favorite teacher (Ms. Narwin). Matters decline further as Philip is informed by a friend that the student body has begun drafting a petition with the intention to compel him into revealing the truth about the incident (an idea that originated from the track coach, Coach Jamison). This propels Philip into a breaking point and he begins skipping school, causing concern from his parents. Philip's mother ultimately decides to transfer him to a private school called Washington Academy (despite protests from his father, as the move would take up all of Philip's money saved for college). At Philip's new school, he is urged to demonstrate 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."
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- "School notes". The Kansas CityStar. November 19, 1997.