Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nothing But the Truth by Avi

Nothing But the Truth was the 2008 "One Book-One Community" selection at my local library. As part of the annual event free copies of the selected book were given to interested patrons. Last year I picked up a free copy of The Book Thief. I had mixed feelings about that book, but didn't overly dislike it, so I thought I'd give this year's book a try.

The One Book-One Community event was held in October of 2008, but it took me until January 2009 to finally get around to reading the book. Of course, if I had realized the 213 page book would only take 2 1/2 hours to read I might have picked it up sooner.

Nothing But the Truth is a modern day social commentary told through a series of diary entries, memos, newspaper articles, and transcripts of conversations. (In a small way the format reminded me of a book I read in high school, Up the Down Staircase.) And for this fact alone it might be a worthwhile read.

The story in summary is about Philip, a ninth-grader at Harrison High School. Philip doesn't really care for school, except math... and track. His dream is to join the school track team and eventually become an Olympic track star. Unfortunately Philip is not permitted to join the school's track team because of a failing grade in English. As a result Philip takes his anger out on his English and Homeroom teacher, Miss Narwin, by trying to provoke her during the routine morning rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. While Philip does succeed in upsetting his teacher everything is made worse when he chooses not to tell the truth. And soon one lie snowballs into more lies and misunderstandings and problems that are further reaching than anyone imagined possible.

Overall I didn't like Nothing But the Truth; it irritated me. Phillip is immature and behaves like spoiled brat. His parents, especially his father doesn't help matters, particularly when he doesn't take the time to really listen to his son, nor does he stop to ask the appropriate questions. Instead Mr. Malloy makes assumptions and coddles his son. At one point he actually preempts his son's explanation by telling Phillip that no matter what his son says, he is on his side, the son can do no wrong. Argh!

Then there is the school board and the administration who behave disgracefully by starting out strongly in favor of the truth, but in the end weakening before popular opinion and the need to pass the school budget (i.e. money). Argh!

To add to this, the story gets out of hand when it is printed in newspapers and carried around the country. The American public responds in superior moral outrage to what they believe is the truth, but is really a biased story full of errors. Unfortunately when the truth is told to one reporter it's such old news it never makes it to print. Argh!

All this irritated me because it could very possibly happen anywhere in today's society. What saddened me most was not just Philip's lie, but that nothing was done about it. So many views distorted the facts that no one really knew what was going on or that Philip was lying. He lived with his lie and it made him miserable. No one seemed to know how to help him, least of all his parents.

In Nothing But the Truth, Avi has written a compelling commentary of society: be it of the family, the school, the media, or the public response to the media. But the lesson he wished to teach was that there are serious consequences when we don't tell the truth. Nothing new to me, but I have to wonder if others have learned something from reading this book.

On a scale of one to five, one being horrible and five being excellent I would rate this book a 2.5. I didn't like it, so I almost rated it a two, but added the half point because it is a lesson that many people could learn today and it is an unusual approach to teaching it.

This isn't a book for my personal library, so I'm planning on giving it away. For those interested I would suggest checking your local library rather than spending money, unless you find yourself particularly attached to it.


Note: Nothing But the Truth by Avi has nothing to do with the 2008 film by the same title.

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