Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yesterday's hottest young adult book

I need to start keeping better track of my video games. The ones that I haven't lent out to people and forgotten about are tossed in stacked plastic bins along with the old CDs I'm too embarrassed to leave sitting around in plain view, books I haven't room for on my shelf, back issues of Mad and Inquest, and other miscallaneous crap that has too much sentimental value to be tossed out, but too little of any other sort of value to take up space anywhere else. Finding any game I've owned prior to 2006 can sometimes be an hour-long undertaking. In most cases it would probably be a lot more timely and cost-efficient (when you reach a certain age you realize that there is ultimately little distinction between the two) to count what I'm looking for as lost and order a used copy on eBay for five bucks.

Yesterday I was searching the bins for Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (because I've discovered that the reading public doesn't give two damns about anything I write unless it pertains to video games) and came across a book I hadn't thought about in a number of years: Nothing But the Truth, a young adult novel by Avi. It has been nearly fifteen years since my first and only reading of it. I was a lot younger and more inattentive then, and I only read it to meet my summer reading quota, so I remembered very few specific details until I picked it up and started flipping through it.

Nothing But the Truth is a god damned brilliant book.

As I'm typing this, it comes to my attention that a film based on the book was released in 2008. I'm not sure how much of a splash it caused, or how many people are familiar with the premise or the plot. If this is old news, just go ahead and direct your browser towards another page. (Which you will be inclined to do anyway, as this post has nothing to do with SquareSoft games.)

The plot (narrated almost entirely by way of conversational excerpts) in a nutshell: an underperforming, pain-in-the-ass public high school school student has a rough working relationship with one of his English teachers. He performs poorly in class, she comes down on him for it, and he resents her for it. Fairly common scenario.

A daily homeroom ritual in this particular school is the playing of the national anthem. One morning, just to get on the teacher's nerves, this kid hums along the song. HMM-HMM-HMM-HMMMM-HMMMMMM HMMMMMMM!! The teacher punishes him for violating the school's policy of maintaining silence during the anthem and being a pain in the ass. Hoping to find a way of getting transferred out of her class, he tells his parents that his crazy teacher suspended him for singing the "Star Spangled Banner."

This is the proverbial flap of the butterfly wing. A national shitstorm ensues. The local media picks up the story. School board members and ambitious small-time politicians grandstand the issue. It makes headlines across the country: STUDENT EXPELLED FOR SINGING THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER. PATRIOTS SHOULD BE OUTRAGED. Every voice of sanity is drowned out in a cacophonous whirlwind of sensationalism. By the time the student starts feeling remorse -- after all, he's just ruined his teacher's career and life for no good reason at all -- he is absolutely powerless to put the brakes to the machine and can only watch it play out.

Nothing But the Truth was written in 1991, a decade after CNN ushered in the era of 24-hour news and its inevitable consequences upon public discourse. It is equally -- if not more -- relevant today than it was twenty years ago. There is no way Avi could have possibly foreseen the advent of pundit-governed journalism and that perpetual engine of vacuous hype and misinformation, the Internet. Revisiting Nothing But the Truth in the context of today's media climate (and increasingly nationalistic political climate) is rather unnerving. I suspect what Avi characterizes as an irregularity -- a perfect storm of circumstances -- is lately becoming the norm rather than the exception. Scary stuff.

So. Do yourself a favor and check it out. (Shall I demean us both with the assurance that it is a fast and easy read?)


  1. I haven't heard of this book before. I think I'll give it a shot after my current read. The 24-hour news connection/comparison was particularly stunning.

  2. Interesting. Alright, I'll look for it on my next Borders expedition.

    This is Crono Maniac, by the way. I didn't put much thought into my gmail account username and that's all I can use.