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.
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.