Nothing but the Truth

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					Nothing but the Truth
A Documentary Novel

Author                     Avi (Avi Wortis; 1937-)
First Published            1991
Type of Work               Novel
Type of Plot               Social realism
Time of Work               The early 1990’s
Locale                     Harrison Township, New Hampshire
Subjects                   Coming-of-age, education, politics and law, and social
issues
Recommended Ages           10-15

         Ninth-grader Philip Malloy’s attempt to manipulate his
         teachers escalates into a national news story that foils his
         plans, threatens a teacher’s career, and challenges notions
         of ethics, truth, and the American way.
         Principal characters:
         PHILIP MALLOY, a ninth-grade student
         BEN MALLOY, Philip’s father
         MRS. MALLOY, Philip’s mother
         MARGARET NARWIN, an English teacher at Harrison High School
         COACH EARL JAMISON, the track coach
         DR. ALBERT SEYMOUR, the school superintendent
         DR. GERTRUDE DOANE, the principal of Harrison High School
         DR. JOSEPH PALLENI, the assistant principal
         TED GRIFFEN, a neighbor of the Malloys who is running for election to
            the school board
         JENNIFER STEWART, the education reporter for the Manchester Record
Form and Content
    Philip Malloy’s dream is to join Coach Jamison’s track team. Unfortunately,
he is ineligible for the team because of his low grade in Miss Narwin’s English
class. Philip is further upset when he learns that Miss Narwin is to be his new
homeroom teacher. Rather than sit down and talk with Miss Narwin as Coach
Jamison suggests, Philip hatches a plan that he thinks will get him transferred
out of both Miss Narwin’s homeroom and her English class. During
homeroom, when school policy dictates that students are to “stand at respectful
silent attention” during the playing of the national anthem, Philip loudly hums
along. When Miss Narwin reprimands Philip, he insists that his previous
homeroom teacher allowed him to hum along because of his patriotic feelings.
When her attempts to talk to Philip lead nowhere, Miss Narwin sends him to
the principal’s office. Philip asserts to Dr. Joseph Pelleni, the assistant
principal, that he has a patriotic desire to sing the national anthem during
homeroom. The next day, Philip again hums along and is sent to the principal’s
office; he is given a two-day suspension from school for his failure to follow
stated rules. Philip maintains to his mother that Miss Narwin dislikes him and
that the whole situation is her fault.
    Philip’s parents are easily led to believe that Miss Narwin is to blame.
Philip’s father is under pressure at work to be more productive. He is frustrated
by needing his job and being unable to protest his supervisor’s demeaning
attitude. Philip’s treatment at school provides an arena in which Mr. Malloy
can find vindication. Philip’s assertions that his teacher is against patriotism
motivate his father to take the story to his next-door neighbor, Ted Griffen, a
candidate for a seat on the local school board.
    Mr. Griffen is quite responsive to Mr. Malloy’s tale of woe about the
schools. When he learns that Miss Narwin refused to allow Philip to sing the
national anthem in class, he is easily convinced that this is another example of
eroding community morals and the folly of allowing the free-thinking
intellectual elite to run the schools. Mr. Griffen cites the incident in speeches to
several community groups.
    Through Ted Griffen, Jennifer Stewart, the education reporter from the
Manchester Record, the newspaper of the state capital, learns about Philip’s
case and contacts him for an interview. Mr. Griffen and Mr. Malloy dominate
the interview to make sure that Philip’s story comes out in full detail.
Unfortunately, their version contains many errors. Jennifer Stewart does cross
check her story with the school superintendent, Dr. Albert Seymour, and Dr.
Gertrude Doane, the principal of Harrison High School, who refers her to Dr.
Pelleni, the assistant principal. The story becomes more confused as the
reporter checks her facts with Dr. Pelleni and Miss Narwin, as both are
inexperienced at dealing with reporters.
    When the newspaper article appears, it precipitates conversations among the
school administrators and others. As one group tries to iron out a uniform
story, others interpolate even wilder conclusions. Ted Griffen cites the
newspaper article in more speeches, and finally a news media wire service
picks up an abbreviated version of the newspaper story. A national talk show
picks up the case from the wire service and begins to discuss it with telephone
callers. National newspapers hear of the story and begin telephoning Harrison,
New Hampshire, as they prepare their versions. A patriotic group in another
state sends a telegram of condemnation to Miss Narwin, while another sends
congratulations and a pledge of support to Philip. Letters from around the
country are sent to the major players of the story. Some call for banning Miss
Narwin from teaching.
    Under pressure from the school board, school administrators meet and try to
effect a cooling off of the situation. Philip is transferred to another homeroom
and then another English class. When he tries to raise his English grade by
doing extra work, he discovers that this is impossible because he is no longer in
Miss Narwin’s class. Coach Jamison tells Philip that sports is all about being a
team player and that it is his fault he is not on the team. Miss Narwin is asked
about retirement and then is offered a leave of absence until the next year. Ted
Griffen is elected to the school board. Philip’s parents decide to enroll him in a
private school. Unfortunately, the private school has no track team.
Analysis
    Avi’s Nothing but the Truth is told through a series of documents, including
school policy statements, conversations, diary entries, telephone conversations,
newspaper articles, transcripts of a talk show, letters, and memoranda. When
Philip Malloy’s low English grade prevents him from joining the track team, he
creates a disturbance during homeroom in order to be transferred to a more
sympathetic teacher. Philip’s juvenile stunt of loudly humming along as the
national anthem is played on the loudspeaker during school opening exercises
is blown out of all proportion. The author shows how through a series of
misrepresentations, misperceptions, and hasty conclusions, the alleged facts of
the incident are used by a political candidate as evidence in a crusade for
increased morality in the schools. The national news media make matters even
worse as they join the parade of misunderstanding that obscures the real truth.
There are ramifications to Philip’s actions: The career of a popular and highly
respected teacher is jeopardized through innuendo, and Philip is forced to
transfer to a school without a track team.
    Nothing but the Truth presents a stark picture of the self-centered thinking
of the young, the preoccupations and poor listening skills of parents and
teachers, the prejudice and posturing of politicians, the timidity of school
administrators, and the hasty and shortsighted assumptions of journalists.
While all these people pay lip service to high ideals and patriotism, their
actions raise important questions about the believability of what is said,
reported, and written. This story challenges the reader to think carefully about
human communication and value systems.
Critical Context
    Nothing but the Truth was designated one of two Newbery Honor Books by
the American Library Association in 1992, as a runner-up for the best book for
young people published in the previous year. If notable fiction for young adults
is supposed to challenge them to think about important issues, this book could
well have warranted the medal itself. The plot is a masterpiece of clever
construction, without extraneous elements. The author weaves a complex set of
story threads into a powerful tale that is accessible, intriguing, and fast-paced.
The significant theme of half truths leading to perdition marks this book as a
modern classic.
    Avi’s work is quite varied, including historical adventures such as The True
Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990), which was also a Newbery Honor
Book; historical mysteries; contemporary comedies; and fantasies. Unlike
many of his other works, which have a strong sense of period and a sweeping
narrative style, Nothing but the Truth operates in a dramatic mode, presenting
documents for the reader to interpret. The author never steps in and tells the
reader what to think of the characters or theme. The book is quite easy to read,
but it demands attention to the facts and sharp inferential reasoning if the subtle
ironies strewn through it are to be appreciated.
                                                                        John D. Beach

				
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