Name that tune……

So I’m in Texas this week visiting my sister and her two kids. The oldest daughter is going to grade 5 in a couple of weeks. She just turned 10 years old. Quite a right of passage. She attends a very small, one stream school and her class was assigned a little reading over the summer. Who knew a summer reading book could cause such controversy? My sister has been receiving emails from other mom’s of children in the class complaining about the book for several reason. So you know me I picked up the book and didn’t but it down until I was finished just after lunch.

The book is Nothing But theTruth by Avi. It’s a Newberry Honor Book! How bad can it be??

Ok here’s a book synopsis stolen from Amazon:
Structured as a series of journal entries, memos, letters and dialogues, this highly original novel emerges as a witty satire of high school politics, revealing how truth can easily become distorted. Ninth grader Philip Malloy is a clownish, rather unmotivated freshman who finds himself unable to participate on the track team because of his failing grade in English. Convinced the teacher, Margaret Narwin, dislikes him, he concocts a scheme to get transferred from her homeroom: instead of standing “at respectful, silent attention” during the national anthem, Philip hums. Throughout the ensuing disciplinary problems at school, his parents take his side, ignore the fact that he is breaking a school rule, and concentrate on issues of patriotism. The conflict between Philip and his school escalates, and he quickly finds the situation out of his control; local community leaders, as well as the national news media, become involved. The incident become exaggerated until a minor school infraction turns into a national scandal. Philip’s parents, several reporters and a neighbor (who happens to be running for the school board) accuse the school of being unpatriotic. Philip gains fame as a martyr for freedom; his homeroom teacher, Miss Narwin, however, faces dismissal from her job as the school district needs a scapegoat. After gleaning the points of view of many characters, readers will side with Miss Narwin and will recognize the hollowness of Philip’s eventual victory. It is clear that Avi ( The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle ) is attuned to the modern high school scene. With frankness and remarkable insight, he conveys the flaws of the system while creating a story that is both entertaining and profound.

Well I thought the book was brilliant. If you thought anything else you missed the whole point to the book! The book is a true satire of American school life: the student who is too cool for school, the parents who support him no matter what because the teacher must be wrong, the teacher who is a little over- dedicated to her job, the superintendent who only cares about getting his budget passed, a media that latches on to anything that could be a scandal, and a society that jumps to conclusions with not nearly enough information.

I found the book extremely well written and edited. I loved the format of the book. Its called a documentary novel. Its a collections of diary entry, conversations, letters, postcards, radio interviews, and newspaper articles. Very refreshing. It will definitely keep a young person interested as it is an unusual format.

The crux of these emails today was the language used in the book. The book is rated for children 11 years of age and older. I think the language is very appropriate to young adults over the age of 13. It’s a bit too mature for a 5th grader. At one point the main character, Phillip, is mad that his teacher has reprimanded him for not respectfully listening to the national anthem. In a conversation with his parents her calls the teacher a bitch. Ok that’s over the line. If a child/ niece/ nephew/ student ever called a teacher or another human being a bitch there would be war!!! Just not appropriate. I understand that the author is trying to make a point, and it is a realistic conversation, but it’s a bit over the top for a 10 year old. Again, geared toward an older child. I understand the emails my sister is getting but it is a term used in context and not without plot advancement. I wondering if they read the whole book or just that section. You need to have it in context.

The book is frustrating to read on some level. As the reader you have all sides of the story and can truly see how this small school infraction turns into a snowball rolling down a hill. If people would just listen to each other there would be no story. If people would just learn to admit a mistake there would be no story. You want to yell at the characters to do the right thing. The more things get out of hand the more frustrated you get. And how does a 14 year old kid stop the snowball running down the hill anyway? Once it’s going you have to have some strength of character to stop it.

I think it is a book that Canadians would find very interesting. Definitely a different perspective about school politics, patriotism, media, society, and education. Not that Canada is better, its just different. And I think its these interesting difference that make us two unique countries.

It’s a about a two hour read. I recommend it.

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