Nothing but the Truth Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
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At the beginning of the book, Philip Malloy is obsessed with making it on his school’s track team. He wants to impress his father and also improve his chances of going to college. He likes most of his classes, math best of all, but despises Miss Narwin’s English class. Phil does not see the point in reading the classic book, The Call of the Wild, and butts heads with Miss Narwin every step of the way. After a sarcastic answer on an exam, Phil receives a “D” as his term grade for English – a grade that prevents him from trying out for the track team. Phil immediately blames Miss Narwin for his bad luck and is angry when he learns she will also be his homeroom teacher for the spring term.
Miss Narwin is facing her own challenges as the story begins. As she desperately tries to get a grasp on contemporary teaching, she bemoans the fact that her students do not appreciate, or even care about, literature the way students in the past have. She requests funding from the school district to attend a summer course to improve her student interaction. When she is denied the funding, Miss Narwin becomes discouraged and angry at the lack of concern the administration shows. Though Phil Malloy does not take her course seriously, Miss Narwin believes Phil has potential and hopes she can break through his tough wall and help him succeed.
The morning announcements are always broadcast through the wall speakers during homeroom at Harrison High School. The first day Phil is in Miss Narwin’s homeroom, he hums along to the playing of the national anthem over the intercom. Miss Narwin asks him to stop. Phil believes his action is no big deal, but Miss Narwin cites a school memo asking students to stand in a respectful silence during the national anthem as her reason for asking him to be quiet. The first time Phil stops reluctantly. After telling his parents about the incident, and being told by his father he should stand up for his rights, Phil continues to hum along to the national anthem in homeroom. Miss Narwin throws him out once. When she throws him out a second time, the assistant principal threatens Phil with suspension. When Phil refuses to apologize to Miss Narwin, he is suspended for being sent to the principal’s office twice in the same week for the same offense. Miss Narwin disagrees with Phil’s suspension, but the assistant principal insists that “a rule is a rule.”
Phil’s mother is upset that he acted up and got suspended, but Phil’s father blames Miss Narwin and is outraged his son was suspended for being patriotic. Phil, and his father Ben, go over to tell their neighbor the story. Ted Griffen, who used to chase Phil off his lawn, is running for the school board and Ben believes he should know what happened to Phil. A reporter is at Ted’s house doing an interview for the school board elections and she ends up interviewing Phil and Ben Malloy about his suspension. She writes an article for the local newspaper presenting a one-sided view of Phil’s suspension and also paints the incident to be about squelching patriotic freedom, not a discipline issue. The people of Harrison Township are outraged, stoked by Ted Griffen who is making the rounds using the incident as leverage to win his school board election campaign.
A national wire service picks up the local story and condenses it to one paragraph, declaring Phil to be suspended for being patriotic and placing the blame solely on Miss Narwin. Newspapers around the country begin calling Harrison High School and telegrams and letters begin arriving, asking for Miss Narwin’s resignation. The school board and administration, feeling pressure because of the upcoming school budget election, begin to twist the truth of the incident and school policy to save face. As a result, Miss Narwin becomes the scapegoat and is asked to take a leave of absence. Phil is overwhelmed by all of the attention he receives as a result of the national coverage, and becomes stressed at the teasing by, and disapproval of, his peers. When Phil realizes he will not be able to improve his grade in Miss Narwin’s class or join the track team, he tells his parents he wants to switch schools.
At the end of the book, Miss Narwin makes the decision to resign, the school district budget is defeated, and Ted Griffen is elected to the school board. Phil leaves Harrison High School to attend Washington Academy, a private school with no track team. In the final lines of the book, Phil admits he does not even know the words to the national anthem.
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Nothing but the Truth Summary
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Nothing but the Truth: A Documentary Novel is a 1992 epistolary novel by American writer Edward Irving Wortis, better known as Avi. Told through a collection of diary entries, letters, school memos, and dialogue, it follows the story of an incident at a school in New Hampshire where a boy is suspended for humming the United States National Anthem. This incident then receives national publicity, turning upside down the lives of both the student who was suspended, and the teacher who referred him for discipline. As indicated by the title, the primary theme in the novel is the idea that truth is subjective. It explores the idea that while individual incidents may be accurate, they can given an inaccurate portrayal of the full event. It also explores what is known as the snowball effect, where a small incident spirals out of control. Nothing by the Truth is regularly taught in schools and is critically acclaimed for its complex story structure and political themes. It won the 1992 Newbery Honor, a runner-up prize to the Newbery Medal, and was later adapted into a stage production.
The main character of Nothing but the Truth is Philip Malloy, a running-obsessed aspiring track star at Harrison High School in New Hampshire. He resents his English teacher, Margaret Narwin, for giving him a D in her class, which kept him from trying out for the track team. He avoids telling his parents why he didn’t try out, instead pretending he’s lost interest in track. He acts out his resentment by acting out in class, making jokes and sarcastic responses. Miss Narwin gets the bulk of this treatment, and it culminates when he loudly hums the national anthem in her class instead of standing in silent, respectful attention as ordered. She asks him to stop, but he continues to do it every day. After three days of humming, he is sent to the principal’s office and ordered to apologize to Miss Narwin for his disrespect. Vice Principal Dr. Joseph Palleni is now mandated to suspend Philip for two days.
Philip proceeds to tell his parents that he was suspended for singing the national anthem. Angry, Philip’s father reports this to their neighbor, Ted Griffen. Griffen is an outspoken man who is currently running for the Harrison School board, and he sees an opportunity. Ted sets up an interview for Philip with Jennifer Stewart, a reporter who has been reporting on his campaign. Mrs. Stewart proceeds to investigate the story further. She interviews other adults in the district, including Superintendent Albert Seymour (who denies that there’s a policy against singing the national anthem but doesn’t know the context), Principal Gertrude Doane (who doesn’t know much about the incident beyond a brief memo she received), Dr. Palleni (who is defensive about his role in Philip’s suspension), and Miss Narwin (who seems shell-shocked that the incident is causing this much drama). Philip becomes a local hero after Jennifer Stewart publishes a clearly biased article that paints him as a patriotic victim of an unpatriotic teacher, and the Associated Press soon picks up the story.
Harrison School District is taken aback by the media sensation over the incident. With a new round of budget cuts potentially coming with school elections, the administration is worried about the bad press and asks Miss Narwin to take a break from teaching. She reluctantly agrees, and then goes further by deciding to resign altogether and visit her sister in Florida. Philip tries to apologize to her briefly before she goes, but she reacts angrily and doesn’t want to talk to him. Ted Griffen uses Philip’s story to rile up the voters and is elected to the school board. Philip, upon his return to school, is taken aback by his newfound fame and is treated as an outcast by his fellow students. It turns out that many students – including Philip’s crush Allison – considered Miss Narwin their favorite teacher. The student body even starts a petition to get Philip to apologize – and idea initiated by the track coach, Coach Jamison. Philip can’t handle it anymore, and starts skipping school, causing great concern for his parents. Eventually, they decide to transfer Philip to a private school called Washington Academy. Philip’s father is opposed to this, not wanting to spend Philip’s college fund. On his first day at Washington Academy, Philip is asked to sing along to the national anthem – and tearfully admits that he doesn’t know the words.
Edward Irving Wortis, better known as Avi, is an American writer of children’s and young adult novels. He has written more than seventy-five books over a thirty-year career, and has been widely honored. He received Newbery Honors for 1991’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and 1992’s Nothing but the Truth, and won the Newbery Award for his Medieval mystery Crispin: The Cross of Lead in 2003. Writing in a variety of genres, from ghost story to sports comedy to political commentary, his books are popular in school libraries and are often taught in schools.