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For Young Readers by Lindsey and Paige Oliver

Avi explores ‘truth’ in novel

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Posted: March 15, 2008 1:18 p.m.
Updated: March 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    In the world of young adult literature, few figures are so impressive as Avi. Though often passed over in favor of classic or more modern novels, his works, which include “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle” and “The Man Who Was Poe,” strike a balance which few, if any, writers have obtained. While engaging and thoroughly kid-friendly, stories penned by Avi often plumb the darkness of human nature, injecting mature themes so subtly and skillfully that they rarely seem out of place, even in a book for younger audiences. His are multi-faceted works—enjoyable and fun at most moments, but at others, strangely haunting.
    “Nothing but the Truth: A Documentary Novel” is no exception to this trend. However, this particular work differentiates itself by enforcing Avi’s quality writing through mediums which, as the title suggests, more resemble a documentary than a chapter book. The use of transcripts, letters, and newspaper articles both hold readers’ attention and further enforces the book’s ultimate message: “truth,” as we see it, is more a matter of interpretation than facts.
     spite of its potentially lofty theme, “Nothing but the Truth” begins innocuously enough. In the backdrop of a typical high school, main character Phillip Malloy goes about his business like any teenager, unremarkable in all but two areas: his prowess in foot racing and his ability to annoy teachers. Ms. Margaret Narwin, his English and homeroom instructor, is no less displeased by Phillip’s lack of academic motivation, but remains purely objective as far as grading is concerned.     Nevertheless, Phillip’s careless attitude results in his failing his first semester of English, rendering him unable to participate on the track team. Deprived of his one means to obtain a college education, Phillip becomes convinced that the grade was a result of his teacher’s animosity towards him, and hatches a plan. Under the assumption that if he annoys Ms. Narwin enough, she will remove him from her class, he takes to disrupting the morning announcements by humming loudly along with the National Anthem. Ms. Narwin does not transfer him, however, and instead punishes Phillip for violating the school’s rules, which request students stand at respectful, silent attention while the Anthem is played. When Phillip reports this to his parents, outrage erupts; everyone involved assumes Ms. Narwin’s actions unpatriotic rather than disciplinary. The situation quickly spirals out of control as a simple disagreement balloons into a national scandal fueled by the media and Phillip’s unwitting enforcement of the rumor.
    A book more about the subjectivity of truth than the concrete nature of it, “Nothing but the Truth” is a work that will not only garner enjoyment from its audience, but also growth and a deeper understanding of the world around them.
Lindsey and Paige Oliver are ninth graders at Bulloch Academy. Their book review of a work aimed at readers ages 9-14 appears monthly in the Herald.
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