Nothing but the Truth Essay - Critical Context

Edward Irving Wortis

Nothing but the Truth Summary

In Nothing but the Truth, budding track star Philip butts heads with his new English teacher, Miss Narwin. He's suspended after his "disrespectful" humming of the National Anthem. This causes a media storm in which he's falsely dubbed a patriot.

  • Philip needs to pass English to stay on the track team. He doesn't like reading, however. He disrupts class with dumb jokes and disrespectful behavior. Miss Narwin finally reprimands him for humming rudely to the National Anthem.

  • Philip is suspended for his behavior. Newspapers pick up on the story, casting him as a hero and Miss Narwin as an unpatriotic tyrant. Miss Narwin gets suspended despite the fact that she is a popular and talented teacher.

  • Philip's classmates get mad at him because of Miss Narwin's suspension. He refuses to go back and later transfers to a private school. When his teacher asks him to lead them in the National Anthem, he finally admits the truth: he doesn't know the words.

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.