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Literature / Nothing But The Truth

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Nothing But The Truth is a 1992 novel written by Avi. It focuses on the subjectivity of the truth and shows that, while individual statements may be true, taken separately they may not give an accurate picture of an event.

Philip Malloy is a track-obsessed 9th grader at Harrison High School in New Hampshire. After receiving a poor grade on an English test, thus preventing him from trying out for track, he retaliates by humming along to the Star-Spangled Banner when it plays every morning. What started as a simple way to get back at his teacher snowballs into an international sensation, not helped by the fact that almost everyone involved seems to have an agenda of some kind.


This novel provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adults Are Useless: Zigzagged in general, but definitely present with Philip's parents, who seem to have no idea what their son is really like.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Philip becomes a social pariah after his actions get Ms. Narwin fired and deny the school some much-needed money.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: In a sense; Philip is seen as a patriotic hero, but he's really a petty delinquent with a bad case of Never My Fault.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Philip's crush rejects him after he gets her favorite teacher fired.
  • Downer Ending: Ms. Narwin resigns from her job and leaves town, Harrison High fails to get a much-needed budget extension due to the incident, Philip is forced to transfer schools after becoming a social pariah, and it’s implied that the truth will never come out.
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  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Ms. Narwin is just trying to reign in a particularly troublesome student, but the media paints her as an anti-patriotic Sadist Teacher.
  • Karma Houdini: Outside of becoming an outcast, Philip faces no real punishment for his actions, and it's implied that his version of the story will be the one that's believed for a long time.
  • Malicious Slander: Ms. Stewart's heavily slanted article on the incident leads to everyone praising Philip as a patriotic hero and condemning Ms. Narwin (and the school as a whole) for trying to "stymie" him.
  • Never My Fault: Philip blames his poor grades solely on Ms. Narwin, driving the events of the plot. He fails to learn his lesson, blaming everyone except himself for his status as a social pariah.
  • Politically Motivated Teacher: Actually inverted; Ms. Narwin is one of the few characters who doesn't have an agenda.
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  • Pyrrhic Victory: Philip successfully destroys Ms. Narwin's career and becomes a national hero, but he has to switch schools because his own school hates him, and he's not even happy with his newfound celebrity status.
  • Sadist Teacher: How Philip (and, eventually, everyone else who hears about the incident) sees Ms. Narwin. She’s actually well-liked by the other students.
  • Saving the Orphanage: In a sense; a side plot focuses on attempts to make sure that Harrison High's budget doesn't get cut further than it already has, as that could be disastrous. Thanks to Philip, this ends up doomed to failure.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Philip is seen as the hero of the incident by the media; in reality, he's a petty delinquent.


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