Marshmallow first read Avi’s Nothing But The Truth in school. Then this summer, during the book bunnies’ break, she had reason to get back to this documentary novel once more. Below she shares her thoughts on this book, first written in 1991 by Avi, the author of the Tales from Dimwood Forest series that Caramel reviewed several times times for this blog, and awarded a Newberry Honor in 1992.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about school or you like thinking about different perspectives on a particular event, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Philip Malloy is a high school student who loves running but dislikes his English teacher. He thinks that she is out to get him. When he learns that he needs to get a passing grade in every class to try out for the track team, he decides he needs to get moved out of his English class.
His teacher, Miss Narwin, thinks that Philip is smart, but that he does not work hard. During English class, Philip constantly makes rude comments and disrupts the class. Now that he has moved to Miss Narwin’s homeroom, he starts to hum or sing during the daily playing of the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”. (It is unclear whether he hums or sings, as the characters believe different things happened.) The school’s rule is to stand in respectful silence while the anthem is played, so Miss Narwin tells him to stop doing what he is doing.
Philip hums or sings during the anthem a total of three times on three different days, hoping he’ll annoy his teacher enough to be moved to a different class. The third time he does it, Miss Narwin tells him to go to the office. There, the assistant principal asks him to apologize to Miss Narwin. Philip refuses, though he is threatened with suspension and a bad mark on his record. Eventually he is suspended and his mother is called to pick him up.
Philip tells his parents that Miss Narwin yelled at him for singing or humming. His parents tell their neighbor Ted Griffen about the event. Griffen is running for the school board, so when he hears about this story, he wants to have it published in the papers. He contacts a journalist to ask some questions about the event, and soon, the journalist writes an article about the event titled “Kicked Out Of School For Patriotism”. The article spreads the news about Philip’s suspension, and soon, people around the country have all heard about the event.
People start to send telegrams to the school, Miss Narwin, and Philip Malloy. The telegrams to the school say that they should fire Miss Narwin. The ones to Miss Narwin say things like, “Surely you have something better to do with your classroom authority than attacking kids who express their love of our country.” The telegrams sent to Philip support his “patriotism”. As the book progresses, it gets harder and harder to tell what really happened and who is telling the truth.
Marshmallow’s Review: I think that Nothing But The Truth is a really interesting book. It is written like a play when there is dialogue (with minimal narration), but the author also shows us excerpts from Philip’s diary, memos, letters, and more. I can see why it is called a documentary novel: it seems to be documenting a real event with different kinds of documents that the reader needs to interpret to understand what really happened. I also found it interesting to read Avi’s explanation of how he ended up writing this book.
The characters themselves are really realistic, with normal hobbies and everything, though they are not always trustable (similar to books or movies with unreliable narrators). The author, Avi, does a great job in making you feel really annoyed by certain characters. And you also sympathize with some of them.
I really liked how Nothing But The Truth keeps you thinking about what really has happened and how you can’t always trust the information that you are given. Its central story has many different interpretations, and what is true, and what is right, is not always what it seems.
Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%.