Nothing But the Truth - Avi

In this thought-provoking examination of freedom, patriotism, and respect, ninth-grader, Philip Malloy, is kept from joining the track team by his failing grades in English class. Convinced that the teacher just doesn't like him, Philip concocts a plan to get transferred out of her class. Breaking the school's policy of silence during the national anthem, he hums along, and ends up in a crisis at the center of the nation's attention.

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Having also been turned into a play by Ronn Smith, this short YA novel focuses around 9th grader Phillip Malloy whose one moment of acting out becomes a media sensation. Phillip does not get along with his home room / English teacher, Mrs. Narwin and believes she has it out for him. The school has a rule about students maintaining absolute silence while the national anthem is played over the intercom every morning, but Phillip decides one day that he wants to hum along. Mrs Narwin asks him to stop two times before deciding on the third warning to send him to the assistant principal's office. Nothing out of the ordinary right? Phillip broke a school rule repeatedly and was duly reprimanded. Except in this case, it turns into a fight for personal freedoms...  or so says the media, once they get wind of the story. Phillip is encouraged by his parents to keep doing what he's doing, to stand up for what he believes in. So he's raised up to hometown hero status, while the teacher, Mrs. Narwin, is villianized for basically just doing her job. 

 

Though many seem to praise Phillip for his bold behavior, the assistant principal does decide to suspend him for repeatedly breaking the rule of silence during the playing of the national anthem. Before dismissing him, the AP gives Phillip the advice, "To get along, you have to play along." When Phillip goes home and tells his parents where standing up for his beliefs got him, they are outraged. Conveniently though, there just happens to be a neighbor across the street, and a good friend of Phillip's father, who is running for school board! This neighbor not only uses Phillip's story as part of his political platform but also introduces Phillip to a news reporter, who then gets interested in running a story about the whole incident. The reporter tries to get the school's side, but the head principal responds with the whole "I have no idea what you're talking about / I have no knowledge of this incident / the boy is clearly making up stories" stance while the AP goes with "No comment but you got all your facts wrong." LOL someone needs to be reminded of the point of the term "no comment"! So the story gets printed in the local newspaper, soon hitting the national AP lines... and once again, Phillip is lauded for his patriotism while Mrs. Narwin has to fear for her job for "repressing freedoms". 

 

I grew up on Avi books and while this one is not one of my favorites of his, I do recommend it for the discussions it is likely to stir up. Who do you side with? Was Phillip's behavior really him just wanting to show patriotic pride or did he really just want to get under the teacher's skin? Did he take his argument / stance too far? Why villianize a teacher for upholding school rules, which is part of her job? This book also gives an interesting look at the behind-the scenes admininstration struggles of keeping a school running smoothly.

 

It's not uncommon to see similar school stories hit newsfeeds today. I found elements of the storyline which ring just as true and relevant in today's society as it did in the early 1990s when it was first written.