Nothing But the Truth by Avi
Nothing but the Truth by Avi is self-described as a documentary novel. An older book, this is a Newbery Honor Book that investigates truth – truth in the individual, truth in politics, truth in the news media – truth. So although older, this book is as timely as today’s headlines.
The premise is this – 9th grader Philip Malloy wants to be moved from Ms. Narwin’s English class so he can participate in the spring track season. His grade in her class is holding him back. He hums along with the National Anthem at the beginning of the school day and is sent to the office by Ms. Narwin for breaking the school rule of standing at ‘respectful, silent attention’ during the anthem.
From this small beginning, his action escalates into a national campaign celebrating Phillip’s patriotism, condemning Ms. Narwin for her unpatriotic response, and supported by politicians and talk radio who latch onto this as a signature issue.
All the reactions are fueled by small “untruths” that compound into a plausible but compelling climax.
This is a good book to read as a group, exploring each turn of events by weighing it against the known facts, as an excellent exercise for teens who are being met with ‘alternative’ facts in the real world.
Nothing but the Truth is found in the Young Adult section of the Youth Services department, among many of Avi’s other excellent books. Check ‘em out!
Day of Tears by Julius Lester
Public voices in recent times appear to have minimized terrible truths of American slavery and the horror of the Holocaust. Julius Lester’s Day of Tears should be required reading for those who have forgotten the reality of slavery in the years before the Civil War.
Lester’s book is based on a true event, the largest slave sale in the history of America, held March 2 and 3, 1859. Between 429 and 436 slaves – men, women, children, complete families – were sold those two days, in the midst of torrential rain storms. The storms were said to have plagued the entire sale, with the sky clearing only after its conclusion. The sale netted $303,850 for the plantation owner. He had bankrupted himself through gambling, and saw the sale as his chance to escape indebtedness.
The book is a series of short narratives from all perspectives. Slaves, the plantation owner, his daughters, the slave seller – all have a piece to say. Most telling are the owner and slave seller who are assured that the slaves have no real feelings, physical or emotional. The “masters” have no sense of the tragedy they cause by considering these human beings to be chattel. The book follows its characters through several generations, giving resolution to their paths.
This is a sobering book but needs to be read, along with similarly truth based books such as Night John by Paulsen, and histories such as Growing up in Slavery by Diouf.
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
Gracefully Grayson is another book that should be read – so many times we have to remember that it is critical for each of us to find stories about us – who we are and how we see ourselves. This book by Ami Polonsky is one which fills a need for those children who are struggling with gender issues.
Grayson looks in the mirror and doesn’t see a sixth grade boy – he sees the beautiful princess he wants to be. He wears his sweatshirts tied around his waist to feel that he is wearing a skirt. But there is no one in the world with whom he can share these thoughts.
Following a fatal car accident which takes his parents away, Grayson lives with his Aunt Sally and Uncle Evan in the suburbs. His cousins Jack and Brett are just down the hall. His mother’s mother is in a nursing home – his only surviving relative on his mother’s side. When she dies, she leaves Grayson three letters written by his mother to his grandmother. In these he discovers that his parents suspected, and were supportive of Grayson’s gender questions.
Grayson tries out for the annual school play, The Myth of Persephone. He decides to try out for and is chosen for the title role, that of a woman kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld. His fellow cast members support his efforts as lead – because he is excellent in the role! But his decision brings troubles along, both in his family and at school.
This is a strong, non-judgmental narrative, with believable insights into Grayson’s mind and emotions. For those of us who can only imagine the painful struggles some young people endure, this is an eye-opening book. The reader is left feeling sympathetic to and understanding of the struggles in Grayson’s life.
—Reviews by Jan Cravens, Youth Services Assistant