What happens in Nothing but the Truth: A Documentary Novel?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel, Philip Malloy is angry because his English teacher, Miss Margaret Narwin, gives him a D, which means he can't be on the track team. He acts out in her homeroom, humming the national anthem under his breath when he is supposed to be silent and respectful. The vice principal is called in after several days and Phillip is suspended. He tells his parents he was suspended for singing the National Anthem. This is a lie, as Phillip doesn't know the words to the anthem. Nevertheless, Phillip's father, thinking the story is true, tells it to his neighbor who is running for the school board. Ted Griffen (the neighbor) tells it to a reporter as a symptom of what's wrong with the school system: after all, why would they suspend a student for being patriotic? This small, distorted incident becomes a news story that gains national prominence when it goes out over the AP wire.

The novel is an exploration of how a small lie can go out of control when people use to it further their own agendas without probing too deeply into its veracity. It's also a comment on silence: one wonders, for instance, why Miss Narwin doesn't say more to the reporter, despite being stunned, to set the record straight. Phillip's small lie upends life for a number of people. The novel thus invites us to look more closely at what truth is and why people tell the stories they do. 

kathik eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nothing But the Truth by Avi is a book written from several points of view, where each person tells a different "truth." The main character, Philip, decides his English teacher, Miss Narwin, does not like him because she gives him poor grades and has high expectations for his work, so in trying to get out of her class, he disrupts her homeroom class by humming the "National Anthem." The rules clearly state that students should "stand at respectful, silent attention" during the playing of the anthem, but when Miss Narwin sends Philip to the assistant principal's office for being disruptive, Phil tells the AP that Miss Narwin just does not like him. Later, this becomes fodder for the newspaper, which accuses Miss Narwin of stifling Philip's patriotism. Miss Narwin never really follows up by calling Philip's parents or getting her truth across to the newspaper reporter, and in the end, she resigns and Philip does not get to run track due to his grades. He ends up leaving the school. Philip starts the ball rolling, causing his situation, as well as Miss Narwin's, to become ones he can't turn back from. Everyone loses because the whole truth never comes out. 

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