Nothing but the Truth Summary & Study Guide


Nothing but the Truth

  • 48-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 19 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with over a decade of teaching experience
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Nothing but the Truth Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 48-page guide for “Nothing but the Truth” by Avi includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 19 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Truth Versus Perception and The Meaning of Patriotism.

Plot Summary

Nothing but the Truth is a Newbery-Award-winning documentary novel published by Avi in 1991. Set in the small New Hampshire town of Harrison, the novel is the story of how ninth-grader Philip Malloy’s efforts to get out of a class with Ms. Narwin, his English teacher, is transformed into a viral story that casts Philip as a patriotic hero and his teacher as a villain. In keeping with the documentary novel genre, Avi tells the story through transcripts of conversations, memos, news stories, and diaries. 

The novel opens with a district-wide memo from Superintendent Seymour on the morning public announcements in the Harrison School District. Students are to listen silently and respectfully while the national anthem is played. Philip, a student in this district, writes in his diary about his excitement over the possibility of finally joining the highschool track team, a dream that is as important to him as it is to his father, who had to give up running and drop out of college to work a sales job to support his family.

Philip’s only worry is that he is struggling in his English class, taught by twenty-year teaching veteran Ms. Narwin. Ms. Narwin is a committed but burned-out teacher discouraged by her inability to reach her students, who are mostly uninterested in the books they read in her class. Philip receives a C- on his winter term exam in Ms. Narwin’s class after he writes a flippant response to an essay question.

The exam score lowers Philip’s grade in Ms. Narwin’s course to a D, making him ineligible to run on the high school track team despite his speed. Angry that his poor grade in Ms. Narwin’s class stands in the way of academic eligibility for track, Philip decides to hum along with the national anthem as it is played over the public announcement system during his homeroom period with Ms. Narwin. Philip stops humming on the first morning at Ms. Narwin’s request but complains to his parents that the teacher will not allow him to sing the national anthem. They are appalled and encourage him to stand up for his rights. Philip hums the anthem twice more and is written up and suspended by Dr. Palleni, the assistant principal, for disrupting class.

Angry at what he sees as an abuse of his son’s rights, Mr. Malloy takes his problems to Ted Griffen, a neighbor who is running for school board. Eager to capitalize on an issue that can help him win the election, Griffen uses the story of Philip’s suspension in his campaign speeches in order to discredit the current board. Griffen even contacts a reporter from the local newspaper to tell her the story. The reporter publishes the story after doing cursory interviews with the involved parties. The story goes viral once it is picked up by a national news service and publicized by a conservative radio talk show host.

Worried by what the bad press may do to the chances of passing a new budget and his re-election, Dr. Seymour, the district superintendent, pressures the administrators at Philip’s school to produce a report. The report slowly morphs until the blame for the situation falls on Ms. Narwin, despite evidence to the contrary. As the school and district receive a great volume of telegrams and letters criticizing Ms. Narwin, however, Dr. Doane, the school principal, moves Philip out of Ms. Narwin’s homeroom and eventually her English class as well.

Fearful of more negative press, the superintendent publishes a memo that changes the school policy by claiming that there is no rule against singing the anthem and that such displays are encouraged. The superintendent tells Griffen that the problem is Ms. Narwin and even shares cherry-picked quotes from her application for professional development funds to make it seem as if Ms. Narwin is out of touch. Dr. Doane tells Ms. Narwin that the district is now willing to provide her funds to take her class but that the school wants her to take a paid leave for the rest of the term. Ms. Narwin assumes this offer is a prelude to being fired, so she resigns and heads to Florida, where her sister lives. Dr. Doane’s efforts are too little, too late: when elections come around, the budget is defeated again and Griffen wins his seat.

Philip transfers to Washington Academy to escape the fallout from the story, but he discovers that the school has no track team. When his homeroom teacher encourages him to sing the national anthem that first morning at the new school, he tells her that he does not actually know the words.

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