Avi's epistolary novel examines the subjectivity of truth through the account of events involving a high school student named Philip Malloy, whose actions cause a ripple effect throughout his community.
After struggling in his English class, which he strongly dislikes, Philip Malloy is angry with his teacher, Miss Narwin, when he receives a term grade of a D. Philip blames Miss Darwin for preventing him from trying out for the track team. As track has become a singular focus for Philip, his world is turned upside down when he cannot participate. Therefore, he acts belligerently during homeroom and English class with Miss Narwin by disobeying her multiple times, acting out, and making sarcastic remarks.
Events begin to snowball when Philip decides to hum loudly to the national anthem during announcements for a few days in a row. Miss Narwin instructs him to stop humming, and instead suggests that he can stand next to his desk in respect for the anthem. Philip repeatedly refuses. He is disciplined for his actions and his refusal to apologize to his teacher; once home, Philip shares what has occurred at school with his parents, stating that his teacher did not allow him to sing the national anthem. His father becomes angry at the perceived injustice and shares what has occurred with a neighbor, Ted, who is running for the school board. Both men believe that Philip has the right to express his patriotic devotion of singing the national anthem.
Ted has connections with a local reporter, who then prints an article from Philip's perspective, sharing how his patriotic freedom was stifled by a teacher. As Ted shares the incident with the town, people become involved and outspoken regarding the incident. A national paper picks up the article as well, and the event at the high school gains national attention. The high school begins to receive letters calling for the resignation of Miss Narwin. As a result of the growing pressure, the school board and administration ask Miss Narwin to take a leave of absence. She agrees to their request.
Ultimately, events unfold in which Philip begins to experience less and less support; criticism of his actions mounts as people learn the truth about the incident. Philip eventually asks his parents if he can change schools, and he also admits to them that he does not even know the words to the national anthem.