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. 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 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. Irrelevant jokes and sassy answers to test questions culminate in his humming the national anthem when he's meant to stand "at silent, respectful attention." In each occurrence, 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 a two days.
Philip then tells his parents that he was suspended for singing the National Anthem. Mr. Malloy (Philip's father), reports this to their neighbor, Ted Griffen, who is running for the Harrison School District school board. Ted gives Philip an interview with Ms. Jennifer Stewart, a reporter who is interviewing Mr. Griffen. Ms. Stewart pursues Philip's story about suspension, going on to speak to many of the adults involved: 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 thanks to the Associated Press, 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 further budget cuts. Because of the vilification about her 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 Griffen 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. However, some of his fame is directed with anger about getting rid of Narwin, for she was Allison's (the girl Phil had romantic feelings towards) favorite teacher. To make matters worse, his friend informs him that the student body is starting a petition to make Philip admit that he was wrong, which was an idea given from the track coach, Coach Jamison. This leads to a breaking point where he chooses to skip school, causing a concern for his parents. Eventually, Philip's mother decides to transfer him to a private school called Washington Academy, despite her husband protesting against the idea, as it would take up all his son's money for college. At Philip'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."
- 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.