Nothing But the Truth (novel)

Nothing But the Truth (novel)
Nothing But The Truth: A Documentary Novel  
Author(s) Avi
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Young-adult Literature
Publisher Orchard Books
Publication date 1991
Media type Print (hardcover, paperback)
Pages 177
ISBN 0531059596
OCLC Number 23252515
Preceded by none
Followed by none

Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel (ISBN 0531059596) is a 1991 book 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 along with the United States National Anthem as well as the effects of this story receiving national publicity.

A central message 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.

Plot summary

Philip Malloy is a track obsessed ninth-grader at Harrison High School in Harrison, New Hampshire. He has a grudge with his English teacher, Margaret Narwin, and is doing very poorly in her class, he is given a D for his grade and is not allowed to try out for the track team. He does not tell this to his parents, He pretends that he no longer has an interest in trying out for the track team. Philip causes distractions in Narwin's class such as humming the national anthum. Eventually he is suspended from school by Dr. Joseph Palleni, the vice principal.

Ms. Jennifer Stewart,a reporter was interviewing Mr. Griffen, Philip Malloy's neighbor, who was running for school board. He was interested in Philip's story about suspension and talks to the school superintendent, Dr. Albert Seymour (who was unaware of any policy against singing the national anthem but is not aware of the context), the principal 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 verifies the facts of the story without providing additional detail or commentary). The story runs in a local paper, and is used as a campaign issue by Mr. Griffen about how a student was suspended for being "patriotic." The story is then picked up by a national newswire as well as a radio station and the school is flooded with telegrams in support of Phillip and against Miss Narwin.

The school tries to respond, going through sequential levels of bureaucracy until its statement has become half-truth, putting the blame fully on Miss Narwin. The superintendent makes a deal with Mr. Griffen that they will encourage Miss Narwin to retire in return for his support of a budget which is on the same ballot. it is revealed how great of a teacher Miss Narwin is, as Philip is ostracized by his peers for forcing her removal. At the end of the novel, Philip has transferred to another school, Washington Academy, without a track team and Miss Narwin has moved in with her sister in Florida. A frequent question of whether Philip was singing or humming is resolved when his new teacher asks him to lead the class in the national anthem Philip breaks down crying confessing "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, a documentary novel, pulls together many different nonnarrative elements, such as memos, conversations, letters and a diary. 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.


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