Nothing but the Truth: A Documentary Novel

by Avi

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Why does Philip cry at the end of Nothing But the Truth?

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Avi's YA novel Nothing But the Truth focuses on the consequences that unfurl after ninth grader Philip Malloy lies to his father by telling him that he was suspended from school for singing the National Anthem. In reality, Philip was suspended by the Vice Principal for his disrespectful behavior toward Mrs. Narwin, his English teacher, and his insistence upon humming the National Anthem when he has been asked to stand quietly and attentively.

This seemingly "little" lie initiates a chain of reactions that blow the situation out of proportion. Philip is interviewed by a journalist who then writes an article which attracts national attention and causes Philip to be praised for his patriotism. As a result, Philip's school is under fire for allegedly thwarting Philip's "patriotism," and Mrs. Narwin is forced to take a "break" from teaching which ultimately results in her resignation. Philip's school loses the funding they so desperately need, and the tide of public opinion begins to turn against him—at least in the attitudes of his peers, who resent how dramatically his lie has impacted their lives. In an effort to protect her son, Philip's mother chooses to transfer him to a different school.

In the closing chapter of this drama, Philip arrives at this new school, Washington Academy, where he is brought to Miss Rooney's home room. Miss Rooney introduces Philip to the class and explains that they normally begin the day by singing the national anthem. "Maybe you'd like to lead us in that?" Miss Rooney asks. Philip begins to cry, and when Miss Rooney asks why, Philip explains, "I don't know the words."

Whether these tears are born of some sense of shame or guilt over the chaos he has catalyzed or whether these tears are simply a matter of embarrassment is unknown. Either way, the damage is done, and Philip is outed as a liar to the watching room of his new peers...and to, inevitably, the rest of the curious nation, as well.

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After all the trouble he's caused, and after the huge media firestorm he's generated over supposedly not being allowed to sing the national anthem, Philip's transferred to another school. On the face of it, it would seem that Washington Academy's just what the doctor ordered for Philip. It may not have a track team, but this is a place where the singing of the national anthem's not just allowed but positively encouraged. Philip's (undeserved) reputation as a super-patriot has preceded him, and so it comes as no surprise when his new teacher asks him to lead the class in a rendition of the national anthem. There's just one problem—Philip doesn't actually know the words. Little wonder, then, that he should feel like crying all of a sudden.

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Like his adversary, Miss Narwin, Philip is a pawn in the drama he sets in motion by "refusing" to follow the school's rule of silence during the national anthem each morning in homeroom. What he really wants is to be transferred back into his old homeroom, where the teacher was a lot looser, and to pass English so he can be on his high school track team.

Instead, what he gets is a transfer to another school where he can be as "patriotic" as he likes, but where he knows no one. To top it all off, he discovers that his new school has no track team. Both Philip and Miss Narwin are sacrificed to an insatiable media frenzy and the petty posturing and politics of the school board and administration. It's enough to make anyone cry!

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