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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri

In EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE, twelve-year-old Daniel shares his own story, from his earliest memories as a three-year-old in Iran, to his current existence as “the refugee kid in the back of Mrs. Miller’s class.” While relating the twists and turns that eventually led his family to Oklahoma, he weaves in tales of his ancestors, myths, and imagined conversations, after a warning in the opening line that “all Persians are liars.” 

While I think this book shines in all of the literary elements listed in the Newbery Terms and Criteria, I especially appreciate the author’s “interpretation of the theme or concept” and how tightly that is tied to the “appropriateness of style” he chooses. There are numerous themes within Daniel’s story, but it’s the exploration of what it means to be a refugee, an immigrant, and an outsider that seems central to everything. He states it on the first page:

If you listen, I’ll tell you a story. We can know and be known to each other, and then we’re not enemies anymore. (1)

Just about everything that follows explores that theme in one way or another, from scenes of violence and cruelty to several discussions about toilets; from perilous journeys to the familiar frustrations of middle school social dynamics. By shifting from past to present to mythical and back again, Daniel gives us multiple examples of what it can mean to have to leave your home and then try to find a new one. It’s all highly specific to his own experiences, but much of it also resonates in more universal ways. He mixes humor into the details, and often sums it all up in surprising and powerful ways.

For example, he tells us about the elaborate frustrations of trying to obtain required documentation in Dubai (274-278).. The almost endless back and forth with rules and regulations is maddening, yet almost comical in the way he describes it. He concludes that passage by cutting to the heart of the matter, and at the same time linking it to the abuse he now faces daily as a middle schooler:

Here in Oklahoma, I understand why – why humans would sit behind a glass window and look in the faces of families running away from danger and dead sheep, and not feel anything.

They think we’re bad people who will come and take their stuff.

Like when I won the tetherball tournament at recess against Trevor and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been there at all. (278)

Nayeri’s style is not conventional, especially for a children’s book, and certainly it will be too challenging for some readers. Experienced and curious readers at the middle school level are the intended audience, though, and for that group, I think this book achieves a level of “eminence and distinction” that we look for in the year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”  

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Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at sengelfried@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. Courtney Hague says:

    I agree with this introduction. The way Nayeri weaves together the themes in this story with the way that it’s told are just spectacular. I love that he chooses to explore how the stories you tell yourself shape your self and how stories in general are both true in the broadest sense and also lies.

    The final scene between Daniel and his mother where he asks her about that first memory he has, the one that he told the reader about at the very beginning where he feels responsible for having killed the bull. And then she tells him that his memory is wrong. It is so perfect. We realize that Daniel’s stories about himself are true in that he believes them and they have shaped the way he sees and presents himself in the world, but are also not necessarily empirically true.

    And that explanation of trying to get correct documentation in Dubai, is absolutely darkly funny. He shows us the frustration and pain and yet tells it in a way that also shows the farcical nature of that system.

    I loved how his story telling mirrors the 1001 Arabian nights and how he continues to bring his life stories back to those tales.

    I can sort of see where one might think this book would be a stretch for younger readers, but I definitely think that children are the intended audience. And just because the book doesn’t have distinct chapters (it does have distinctive paragraph and page breaks which I think could act in the same way that chapter breaks do), I do think the right young reader could appreciate this book.

  2. Kimberley Rhoades says:

    I enjoyed this one immensely, although it was slow to capture me. Once it did, I was heavily invested. So much happening in this story and what an authentic and tenacious kid! I believe this one will be a book that educators could use in classrooms very well to share the experiences of refugees and immigrants.

  3. Anna Nielsen says:

    I love this book! Nayeri’s novel is a story filled with stories filled with stories, modeled after 1,001 Nights, in which the narrator is not a beautiful young Scheherazade saving herself from a mad king but a questioning young boy named Khosrou searching for what is true. He flees Iran, stops in refugee camps in Dubai and Italy, and lands finally in Oklahoma, to a new life as Daniel. “A patchwork story is the shame of a refugee, ” he shares, and he needs to put the patches together to know who he is. But how do we discern life from memory? Fact from interpretation? How can a young boy – or any of us – track, let alone know, his very own self, if his pieces are all over the globe, ensconced in tales and scattered experiences?

    “A myth is only an explanation, not an exploration,” he states early on, and going further shares that legends “are more detailed than myths, but not always more accurate.” So what is true? What is life? What is memory? Is certainty the same as truth? According to whom?

    In Oklahoma, Daniel tries to explain and explore. He tells his teacher Mrs. Miller and his school class about his family and where they come from. They don’t believe him. They don’t really understand, just as he doesn’t understand them. His grandfather in Iran lives in a house 600 hundred years old. His class takes a museum field trip to a house that is 98 years old – why is the house empty so soon, he wonders? Do Americans kick people out after so few years? Why? As he navigates his life, he decides: “you either get the truth, or you get good news – you don’t often get both.” People are usually unlikeable, even evil, in small, casual, everyday ways. Life is usually hard, and justice more an ideology than a practice.

    But through it all, Daniel has hope. He is a quester questing, enamored, against all odds, of this thing called life. His voice is humorous and lyrical, both relentlessly straightforward and surely magical. He addresses we the readers and tells us to pay attention. We learn the difference between Shiites and Sunnis, how the Kurds came to be, what life is actually like in a refugee camp in a country that doesn’t want you, what is it to be rich and poor, to be happy and lost, and to dream. He shows us what it is to have hope, that someday, something “will come to pass that will make everything sad untrue,” or will at least make us whole, even if it takes 1,001 nights or a thousand years. A gorgeous book, worth reading again and again.

  4. For the longest time, I didn’t realize that the narrator was supposed to still be a kid. I thought it was an adult discussing what his life was like as a kid, and that he had two narrative threads going about when he lived and Oklahoma and from his life pre-Oklahoma. For whatever reason, his voice just didn’t feel particularly feel kid-like to me, and not all the poop anecdotes in the world can change that.

    That being said, I’m sure that, for the right readers, this will be the right book. The repeated line about missing memories being the “shame of the refugee,” the comparisons with 1,001 Nights, the discussion towards the end of how stories and real life interact with each other, and other, similar observations give the book a lot of weighty things to ponder, which I think readers of all age can appreciate. For kids who have also experienced displacement of one kind or another, I hope they can see some version of themselves in this work, as well.

  5. Rachel Jamieson says:

    I have read many middle grade chapter books, but I have never read one like this. It feels like a tale of Scheherazade mixed in with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It is the story of a middle grade boy, filled with poop, video games, and mentions of sex. There is also talk about bullying, abuse at home, and some frank discussion of Islam and Christianity. I can imagine the dilemma this will cause school librarians in conservative areas.
    But, this is a unique, truthful account of a middle school refugee. Nothing really feels false, though some bits are confusing. I found myself wanting to recommend this book to some people after reading it, but none of those people were children. I think “Everything Sad is Untrue” is a distinguished work of literature, but I found myself hoping that it would win the Printz instead of the Newbery. I think if it won that award, it would be more likely to find a large audience of readers that would appreciate it.

    • Anna Nielsen says:

      Discussions of audience are always interesting! the Newbery Award is for children as “defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.” I’m guessing, since the book tracks Khosrou/Daniel’s life from middle school, and middle school kids are under 14, the publisher geared it toward the J rather than YA audience, as we tend to put books about kids in certain grades in their corresponding sections. That being said, I put it in the YA section of my library, so I’m contradicting myself. I put it in YA because of content issues, though, not narrative difficulty. I think we underestimate what kids can handle and read, and the ability of kids to take from a book what they can and let go what they can’t. Nayeri is a master at weaving plot, character, and subject lines together, and developing all simultaneously. As such, I think his novel is a distinguished contribution. He assumes we can read and make connections, and I really appreciate it.

  6. Meredith Burton says:

    Everything Sad is Untrue is one of my favorite reads of this year. The seemingly meandering writing style, which is meant to resemble the intricate Persian rugs which Nayeri describes, forces readers to be patient as they navigate the labyrinthiene path which Daniel himself traverses. I loved how the legends, stories of Daniel’s ancestors and everyday adventures in Oklahoma finally combine. My favorite aspect was how the legends mirrored Daniel’s own experiences, particularly the legend of the origin of the Kurds. Like the nomadic wanderers saved from the voracious king, Daniel, his mother and sister are on an arduous journey, too, where memories are questioned and isolation is often felt. Daniel experiences more in his twelve years than most of us will experience in a lifetime. Everything Sad is Untrue is an enthralling and vivid book that is impossible to forget.

    I do wonder if children will have patience with the complex sentence structure and philosophical writing style. Children need to be challenged, and this book certainly provides much to ponder. I loved Ms. Rachel’s comparison to 10001 Nights and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This description is very apt. I do not know if this book would be more suited for Newbery or Printz, but it is definitely a worthy candiadate and deserves recognition of some sort.

  7. Leonard Kim says:

    I’ve already written at length about this book and won’t rehash that. I would be curious how the Committee feels about it in comparison to CHANCE? Which book demands more maturity from the reader? Do both, neither, or one demand so much that its “excellence of presentation for a child audience” is questionable? I agree that CHANCE, despite apperances, is told from an old, reminiscing perspective. Reading CHANCE felt almost a little like reading The Little Prince in that regard. (Looking at Wikipedia, it seems initial reception to The Little Prince did question whether it was a kid’s book. Wikipedia quotes the New York Times’ review, “The Little Prince, which is a fascinating fable for grown-ups [is] of conjectural value for boys and girls of 6, 8 and 10.” Obviously I also feel EVERYTHING SAD is a kid’s book in apperance only, and it’s interesting that the same NYT review of The Little Prince asks, “can you clutter up a narrative with paradox and irony and still hold the interest of 8 and 10-year olds?”, which is something I think applies here too (though I recognize the book’s advocates envision an older ideal reader.)

  8. Rox Anne Close says:

    This book is not just a memoir, it has brilliant imagery, smart humor and Nayeri’s voice and storytelling are uniquely his own. I loved how the author included the reader as an active listener. I felt like I was sitting in Mrs. Miller’s English class wondering how Khosrou’s stories could be true, yet being so curious and interested with my hand raised to ask Khorsrou more about life in Iran, Persian folklore or to learn more about the history of the Shiites and Sunnis.

    I agree with Steven that this book shines in all the literary elements listed in the Newbery Terms and Criteria, but this book is most powerful in giving the reader a window into the raw emotional life as a refugee and trying to fit in. Likewise this book gave me a window into my own American culture that I don’t always see myself. I especially enjoyed the sections about the church BBQ food and Twinkies compared to Persian cooking; cultural difference on welcoming guests; using American toilets, and what does ‘richness’ mean.

    This book was not a fast, easy read, due to its complex non-linear structure. But I think it was written that way on purpose. Khosrou’s life was not linear. As he stated, “A patchwork memory is the shame of a refugee.” He is writing from a younger person’s perspective, leaving behind family, grasping for memories. His life was a whirlwind of stories from Iran, Oklahoma, Persian mythology etc., just like an Oklahoma tornado.

    It took me a while to read because there were many striking sentences that I needed to savor and think about such as: “If you want a happy ending, that depends of course on where you stop the story…It’ll be alright in the end folks. If it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.”

    There is enough “poop and blood stories to entertain middle-school students, yet it is powerful and in depth enough to make students think about things in a new way. You can read this book on many levels, and is ripe for classroom discussion. It definitely needs to be recognized as an award winning book.

  9. Susan Northsea says:

    I suppose I will be the dissenting voice. I was very intrigued when Betsy Bird did the cover reveal (I believe) on Fuse #8 (the included snippet showed its unique accomplishment) and promptly bought the book. Sixty pages in, I had a splitting headache. I find the book to be a virtuoso performance of one, almost an echo chamber.

    Certainly, it exposes young readers to new ideas and experiences, or, as Aud sensitively remarked, it may appeal to “kids who have also experienced displacement of one kind or another.” But is that enough? I don’t see a way in for children’s imaginations or curiosity. The book is packed with truisms (see below) which I found profound but then began to think: says you! Perhaps this is where I most missed complex secondary characters with contradictory viewpoints so kids could come to their own conclusions rather than being told.

    “Suddenly evil isn’t punching people or even hating them. Suddenly it’s all that stuff you’ve left undone. All the kindness you could have given. All the excuses you gave instead.”

    I certainly do not find it too sophisticated for young readers. As a schoolteacher for four decades, I put high stock in young readers. I find the best novels by kid lit masters like Christopher Paul Curtis and Laura Amy Schlitz far more complicated and compelling. The comparison to The Little Prince is apt. Precocious adults claim that was their favorite childhood book–but was it really? Perhaps, and for some this could be one too.

    I’m rather resolved that this will win the Medal. I’m hoping for a good crop of Honor books.

  10. In response to Leonard Kim:
    As I said in the Chance discussion, I never really felt like that memoir was written specifically for children. I’ll admit that I felt something similar here, for Something Sad. And I think Susan Northsea’s observations captured some of why I felt that. The book was so full of the narrator, that maybe there’s not much room for the reader to get in their own thoughts.

    But there are young people who will appreciate this, I’m sure.

  11. I have some questions about the attitude of this book’s narrator towards his audience. Who is Daniel/Khosrou imagining when he addresses the reader? It seemed to me that the reader is his head is a small-minded WASP. Someone who wouldn’t even bother to try to pronounce the name of a foreign place (see page 3).

    Do you think that might be off-putting for some young readers? I admit I found it unpleasant to be addressed as “dear reader” and then told his name wouldn’t even look like a name to me and I couldn’t even say it (page 12). “Khosrou. That name ain’t for your mouth.” (page 13)

    Later in the story, he assumes the reader doesn’t know about the history of Islam. “You’re not ready for this” (page 173).

    Leonard called the narrator’s tone “mansplaining” which points to this condescending tone Daniel/Khosrou sometimes takes toward his reader. To be clear, it’s not that Daniel explains things (every book explains things the reader might already know); it’s that he sort of sneers at the reader’s presumed ignorance.

    Maybe he’s imagining he’s talking to one of his Oklahoma classmates. But that seems like a stretch to me. He says, “Reader, whoever you are, you’re the king. You’ve got my whole life in your hands.” This to me sounds like he’s talking to whoever is actually reading the book — not one of the kids in Mrs. Miller’s class.

    Just in general, if anyone has had the opportunity to discuss this book with a kid who has read it, I would love to hear what actual young people have to say about it.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Destinee is saying what I was trying to say, but better and with better examples. #IAgreeWithDestinee.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I think Desiree’s description of the reader in Daniel’s head as “a small-minded WASP. Someone who wouldn’t even bother to try to pronounce the name of a foreign place” could be not far wrong. But to me it makes sense that he would see his imagined readers (and the kids in his class) that way.

      Daniel’s really smart. His experiences are unique and very foreign to those of anyone he’s met. He doesn’t have great expectations that he’ll be understood, because no one has tried to understand him so far in his whole life. And though his past hasn’t earned him admiration or respect from others to this point, he’s still proud in many ways of his history. He wants readers to understand him, and even like him, but based on experience, some bitterness and skepticism that readers will “even bother” to try to understand his story seems appropriate.

      I still don’t think “mansplaining” fits here. I that term indicates you’re explaining something to someone who doesn’t need it explained. Daniel’s experience to this point in his life has been that not only do people not understand his life, they mostly aren’t interested in even trying. The real readers of his book (as opposed to the people he’s met and imagines), and especially us adult ones, likely will receive his story with empathy and understanding that he’s not anticipating. But I don’t think we’re exactly the “dear reader” he’s addressing.

      I do agree, though, that the tone “might be off-putting to young readers.” though my guess is that may be more likely in adult readers. But I admit I’m still not sure how the experienced, curious middle school readers that I think will appreciate this book are really out there, and like Desiree, I’d love to hear what some real kids think of it.

      • I agree with Steven here. The tone is exactly right given the circumstances. And nobody ever said a narrator had to be likable to be profoundly well done. In fact, many have argued that a complex protagonist is much more difficult a task, so perhaps the “not liking” Daniel is part of the evidence for this book’s greatness?

      • I’m not really asking if young readers will like Daniel as a character. I’m asking if young readers (especially those who are immigrants, refugees, or otherwise marginalized by white American culture) will be turned off by the white default reader Daniel seems to be addressing throughout the book. I imagine them thinking “Who is this book for?”

        But I haven’t actually talked to any young people who’ve read this book, so it’s just a question. I have a suspicion that you won’t find too many children who have made it through this book because it has no overarching plot. I scanned the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads looking for a review from a kid’s perspective, but I couldn’t find one. The closest I could find is this review by someone who I think is still young-ish: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3714800984

        An excerpt from the review: ” It’s a performance not a book. There’s no other voice but Nayeri’s. You can’t find anything for yourself between the lines. You can’t tune him out for two seconds, like a bad date you’re probably blamed for. If you like poop, descriptions of cruelty and most of all braggadocio preening, this is the book for you.”

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Hmm, I had not until now tried to imagine whether 12-year-old me would have liked this book, and I am chagrined to admit I think he would have. (But I wouldn’t want 12-year-old me choosing the Newbery, and just thinking about him makes me want to smack him around a little, actually not unlike the way I feel about Daniel…)

    • Charlotte Chung says:

      I interpreted the sections that you pointed out in a completely different way.

      First–I felt that Daniel was addressing a reader reflective of someone in his classroom or broader community in Oklahoma. I agree with Steven–Daniel is incredibly smart and his experiences are unique to the majority of those he meets in Oklahoma. He is also consistently othered by those in his community. In this context, of course he is assuming that his readers do not have a background in the history of Islam? In this context, why wouldn’t he (especially as youth) take on a frustrated or sarcastic tone with the reader once and a while?

      I also saw the passages that you pointed out about his name as Daniel reclaiming his name by turning the tables on those who cannot be bothered to learn its pronunciation (which is an unfortunately an all-too-common microaggression in the United States). Here, Daniel brilliantly reclaims his name from those who mispronounce it and/or refuse to learn it–they cannot pronounce it because it is too grand! It is the name of a king! The line “That name ain’t for your mouth” (p. 13) was one of my favorite parts of the book. I cheered for Daniel in that moment. He also had me cackling at his quick admission that the “Khosrou’s just a twelve-year-old kid with a big butt.” (p.13)

      Finally–is it a problem that (as you said) the “reader is his head is a small-minded WASP. Someone who wouldn’t even bother to try to pronounce the name of a foreign place”? If Daniel is consistently being othered by those in his community, then I don’t blame him for turning the tables and sharing his thoughts and story to those in his community. I can only speculate about who author Daniel is writing to, but I feel strongly that everyone could read this book and take something away from it.

  12. Kirsten Hansen says:

    I read and enjoyed Everything Sad but like Leonard and Destinee found Daniel/Khosrou’s head an occasionally exhausting place to be. He is a compelling narrator but the scenes in the book that I keep returning to are the rare glimpses we get of his family member’s memories, including the scene at the end when Daniel’s mother tells her version of what happened on the day with Daniel’s grandfather and the bull and the scene when Daniel’s sister tells him details of what happened in Dubai. I think that the theme of memory and how it shifts and changes and can be incomplete would have been strengthened by including more of these moments, not by getting at some subjective truth (I imagine some readers will be annoyed by the lack thereof) but by highlighting how the same experience can be remembered very differently by different people. I’m particularly intrigued by Daniel’s sister, which comes off as something of a villain at points throughout the book. Since she is a few years older than Daniel, her point of view for some of the early memories would still be that of a child, but one with a slightly better grasp of what is happening. On the other hand, this is a memoir and Daniel’s memories are the point of the whole enterprise.

    Where this book shines for me is the structure. It knocks “appropriateness of style” out of the park: it so clearly echoes the ways that memory and storytelling work, with one memory or story leading to the next. It will be a challenging structure for many readers but it could really change the idea of how narrative can work for those who persevere.

    • Jenny Zbrizher says:

      I second Kirsten’s thoughts about this story’s impressive structure. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and I agree that it certainly does knock “appropriateness of style” out of the park in terms of the style reflecting content.

      I think one particularly effective indicator that this story is told from the perspective of 12-year-old Daniel is the way he talks about his sister. I so wanted to know more about her, certain that under her tough and aloof exterior there lay another complex young person I wanted to get to know, coping and surviving under the weight of being a refugee. I get the sense that the siblings became close as adults (they’ve written books together!), yet Daniel never lets us in to get to know her better. This is not just because this story is his, but because of the fact that at that point in his life, his sister and him did not have that kind of relationship. They kept each other at arm’s length, and so the limited perspective we get of her is authentic to the relationship they had at that time. I found this simultaneoulsy frustrating and extremly effective.

  13. Oo boy , this book. I started reading on a library copy, and by page 16, I knew I would have to own it. It is probably my favorite book of the year (for young readers), the one that surprised me the most, the one I think is truly the most distinguished. That said, I agree completely with all the comments concerning audience; there is an ambiguity that I can’t quite place, can’t quite figure out who would be the ideal reader. But. BUT. I feel the same way about my favorite Newbery winner ever, one of my favorite books of all time for any age: THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON. As a school librarian, I had the hardest time convincing readers to try Barnhill’s masterpiece, and without the audio, I am certain many young readers would never appreciate it. There’s something there, though, and the committee will undoubtedly have to wrestle with this one.

  14. Meredith Burton says:

    I understand how some might find Daniel’s voice to be condescending or off-putting. However, I don’t think that’s Nayeri’s intention. I remember the first time I read this book, I thought it was a memoir. Then I realized it was autobiographical fiction. I never found his voice off-putting. I read into it a longing for people to understand him. Remember that his classmates often tease him for being overweight or for his different ways of looking at the world. I think lots of children feel that way at times, isolated and out of place in a hostile world. I was overweight in school and understand that feeling. His wide experience of the world is difficult for anyone who has not had similar experiences to fully comprehend. I can see how he might feel that others would not understand. I learned a great deal I didn’t know from his story and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

  15. Amanda Bishop says:

    This book was my favorite book that I read this year, in fact I read it twice, and I believe that I will continue to come back to this wonderful book. Nayeri’s writing is so beautiful and the way that he interweaves his story with the stories of the past truly bring to life his experiences as a child. I have never read a book that leaves me heartbroken at the beginning of the page and then laughing by the end. Nayeri always keeps the reader on their toes in terms of what will come next.

    I have had many discussions with others on the intended audience. While the narrative style is complex I think that the intended audience is certainly middle grade. Nayeri does a wonderful job providing context for the deep history of Iran and in particular the complex history of his own family. The way that he interjects humor will appeal and connect with children.

    In response to a comment above concerned with plot I think the way that Nayeri told his story was inventive and beautiful in its narration. His purpose is not to give you a clean-cut plot driven story with events leading to a final conclusion. Rather he is weaving the tapestry of his life events together so that the reader may understand the complexity and richness of the human experience. I traditional plot would diminish his story and would not ring true to his lived experiences.

  16. Susan Northsea says:

    I think civilized dissent is important. I may have never seen another Heavy Medal book receive as passionate defenses as this one. Someone mansplaining to all genders that the author/narrator isn’t mansplaining is off-putting. Quite a few lists–including on SLJ and chosen by former Newbery Committee members–have not included this title. Maybe those of us who have objections or concerns are in good company rather than cranky outliers. That’s the last I’ll say.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Susan N. notes that “civilized dissent is important” and I couldn’t agree more. On this blog, and in most any Mock Awards discussion, if there’s not dissent, there’s probably something wrong. The “civilized” part is important too. I feel like as long as we stick to talking about the book itself, and responding to the comments others make about the book, we’re doing okay. Talking about the people who make the comments is not the goal, but I haven’t seen much of that.

      The “passionate defenses” of this book, and others on the blog, seem appropriately book-focused to me. So are the valid concerns expressed by others. There have been some insightful questions about the audience and about the narrator’s voice. I don’t think anyone’s implied that those concerns belong in a “cranky outliers” category. Speaking for myself only, those criticisms have made me think more deeply about the book and how readers will respond to it, even though I still see it as a strong Newbery contender.

      • One thing I really like about this blog is when the discussion goes beyond this year’s books and becomes about the philosophical questions surrounding the Newbery. The excellence of a text is subjective so how can a group of passionate readers reach consensus about which book is most distinguished?

        I think it’s helpful for me to set aside my personal emotional reaction to a book and try to put children at the center of my appreciations and concerns. So I’m somewhat disappointed to see so many commenters defending this book by talking about how much they personally loved it and appreicated it. I don’t really find that line of argument persuasive. If you want to build consensus, don’t tell me what the text does for you or how it makes you feel. Tell me what it does for kids and how it makes kids feel.

  17. Charlotte Chung says:

    I’m confused and concerned by the “mansplaining” accusations being thrown around here. As a woman, I felt that the previous explanation that Daniel was not mansplaining was accurate. Secondly, I’m really disturbed at the “mansplaining” attribution directed to a fifth-grade child explaining his name, culture, history, and experience. Sure, Daniel’s tone can be sarcastic and perhaps condescending sometimes, but let’s contextualize this within Daniel’s experience as an Iranian refugee in Oklahoma. Daniel details the many ways in which he is marginalized and othered in his class and community. The book offers narrator Daniel the space to finally centralize and share his own experience, stories, thoughts, and ideas without being ridiculed, dismissed, or shamed. In this context, I can understand narrator and author Daniel taking on a sardonic, sarcastic, or frustrated tone at times as he flips this power dynamic.

    • I second these thoughtful words. Thank you, Charlotte!

    • Charlotte, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said Daniel’s tone can be condescending toward the reader. I’d go further and say he makes assumptions about what the reader knows and who the reader is (i.e. he seems to assume the reader is white and narrow-minded). My question was how young readers in the real world are responding to Daniel’s tone. (Btw, so far we haven’t heard from anyone who has talked to a child who has read EVERYTHING SAD.)

      I think we can agree that the longer description of Daniel’s tone toward the reader (condescending, making assumptions that he knows more) is accurate and we can also agree that “mansplaining” is not a great shorthand to use for that in this discussion.

      • Anna Nielsen says:

        I’ve spoken with children who read EVERYTHING SAD and they love it. They love the layers of it. They love that Daniel is a voice who protects himself by saying a reader won’t get him before the reader has a chance to not get him and thus hurt him like all the others in his life who haven’t gotten him and thus hurt him, like the hotel people in Italy, like the kids who would’ve won the recess game if Daniel wasn’t there, like the people who assumed he was from nothing worth respecting because they didn’t know anything about him, like the people who didn’t like him because he isn’t just like them. They did not feel condescended to, or mansplained to. They enjoyed the voice of someone telling them their story, in all it’s threads, and thought – “See? We all have stories worth telling, stories that most people we meet have no idea about. They just assume.” Plus, it’s magnificently well-written, and kids and teens get tired too, of books that aren’t, and appreciate and relish books that are.

      • Charlotte Chung says:

        Thanks Anna for following up with children about it! I started rereading the book, and it was a poor word choice on my part to describe Daniel’s tone as sarcastic/condescending at times! I was trying to explain what you described so perfectly here. It is so beautifully written. I love how it is broken into smaller stories that layer weave together to form a bigger picture. I feel like children would appreciate it too.

  18. Jenny Zbrizher says:

    I appreciate Destinee’s comment above that this discussion might be best served by talking about what the text does for kids rather than adult readers, and I do believe that many here have already touched on this quite eloquently.

    I think that because Daniel’s voice is so confident and so brash, and his storytelling style quite sophisticated, it’s tempting to conflate the voice of an imagined adult Daniel with 12-year-old Daniel, who is ostensibly the narrator of this story. As someone who immigrated to the U.S. at around the same age as Daniel did, I found his impressions at being a refugee extremely poignant and relatable. I had no trouble buying into his wiser-than-his-years voice, at least in the spirit of the thing, because he’s had to grow up faster than a lot of kids. The bravado in his tone read to me as a defense mechanism against the bigotry and lack of understanding he experiences as a child in Oklahoma. Like Meredith, I read into his voice a longing for people to understand him, a vulnerability he masks with cleverness and sarcasm. He certainly paints a “me against the world” dichotomy between him and his classmates, but taken from a child’s perspective this point of view makes sense; he bases his imagined reader on his classmates, because that has been his limited experience with an audience at this stage of his life. As he says, “[T]he shame of refugees is that we have to constantly explain ourselves.” (p. 214)

    It’s hard to speculate exactly what a young person reading this book might take away from being addressed as Daniel’s “reader”, but it is entirely possible that they wouldn’t take that address so literally and would rather feel more of a kinship with Daniel, from being so squarely inside his head, than the imagined “reader”. It’s possible that they may see through the bravado in his tone and understand him.

    • Thanks for this persuasive analysis, Jenny. I agree that it’s hard to speculate about what real young readers will take away from a book, which is why I think it’s important for real committee members to connect with lots of young readers. I’m sure that has been more difficult this year because of the pandemic.

      I also really appreciate the anonymous comment from a kid who hasn’t read EVERYTHING SAD but believes we shouldn’t underestimate child readers. I completely agree.

      Ultimately, only time will tell if the committee has chosen a book that will be held in the highest regard by generations of young readers. For example, Secret of the Andes may have won the 1953 Newbery Medal, but in hindsight it’s obvious that Charlotte’s Web was the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature that year.

      The only year I’ve ever felt 100% sure I knew which book would win and that it was the best choice was 2009 (WHEN YOU REACH ME). This was also my first year working as a children’s librarian and I think that year cemented my interest in Mock Newbery! Every year since has been chasing the Mock Newbery dragon. 🙂

  19. Anonymous says:

    These are all good points! There’s been plenty of discussion about how Everything Sad is Untrue resonates with kids versus adults. I’m a kid. I haven’t read this but I want to, and why wouldn’t I? I read the google preview and it’s obviously top-notch writing. I respect everyone’s opinions, but it annoys me that the question “would twelve-year-old me like it?”, etc, comes up usually in books that have very literary qualities, in other words, are especially well-written. At school, there’s not much time to read or find out what you enjoy reading, so many kids follow along with the trends (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Smile). It’s often not expected of 10-13-year-olds to read something that isn’t fast-paced and in the genre of whatever’s trending, but like anyone else, kids can enjoy a good piece of writing even when it’s out of their comfort zone. I’ve lent books to friends that they normally wouldn’t read but that they ended up loving anyway. I’ve appreciated what others have said about age appeal, but I recommend be careful not to be quick to judge a book as too unusual or too advanced for its audience. As I said, I haven’t read it, so maybe it IS more aimed at adults than kids. But I suspect that this is a belief based on assumptions about the likelihood of adults versus kids reading it.

  20. Charlie Longbow says:

    I wrote this under my comments on Prairie Lotus: “Many immigrant narratives lean into whiteness (like the Nayeri book: “before the state was Oklahoma…”) and don’t take into account Indigenous people or descendants of enslaved Africans unless it’s a reference to pop culture like rap.”

    That’s true. But I learned a lot about Persian culture, storytelling, Islam, prejudice against immigrant kids from this story. I think he’s funny–“Scheherazade mixed in with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is a bad description. I know outsiders can see ways of presentation as offensive when they’re not. As Jenny wrote: “The bravado in his tone read to me as a defense mechanism against the bigotry and lack of understanding he experiences as a child in Oklahoma.” Tho I’m not telling anyone they can’t call it mansplaining–that would be gaslighting! “Coxtextualizing” it–my Black mom would be up my head if I talked to her like that as a kid, lol. I agree with Kristen that it can be exhausting, and I wish there were more glimpses of other people too. But it’s def unique and well done. It wouldn’t have been above my reading level at 11 and up. I’m still a teen. I don’t think it’s kid unfriendly, but I don’t see my younger cousins going crazy for it either. Do they have to? I didn’t love Medal winner Dead End in Norvelt when assigned in school. Reading all your comments and taking to my dad, I wonder if it works best for adult nostalgia. Just my POV to add to the pile.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective, Charlie. You’re right to point out that not every kid has to go crazy for a book for it to be worthy of the Newbery Medal.

      The goal of the award is to recognize the author who has made the most significant contribution to children’s literature. This is beyond difficult because only time will tell which books have a lasting impact on the field. What was the most significant book you read as a child? What made it significant to you?

  21. After reading the book and reading through the comments here, I think this EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE merits being a contender for the Newbery. It is a unique voice, perspective, and written in a way that is both creative and is kid-relatable. He speaks to the age group well – cynical, having bravado – even though they have no real life experience yet, feeling like outcasts, outsiders, and more. I think the writing is en pointe. The experience also merits being a contender, because a lot of the experiences we read about are rarely found in other communities of color. I think it’s important for children to see what other immigrants experience coming to the US, seeking refuge in a place that is filled with illusions of hope, freedom, but only to be slapped in the face with the realities of racism, hate, assumption, and made to feel like an outsider ALL THE TIME. So, I agree with Charlotte’s thoughts and think it’s important to see how much of a contribution Nayeri’s story would be to those kids who only learn about the division between blacks and whites and don’t often get to see or hear about the POC in the shades of gray, whose voices aren’t often heard. America is made up of so many voices, cultures, and people, yet our library bookshelves don’t reflect enough stories from these communities. I think Nayeri’s experience is a gift to young readers. Not just those who have never experienced such hardship, but also for the kids who have and for them to see themselves, their hurt and their stories reflected in books. It’s not just a book about hurt, but hope.

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