In this book, Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri, the author channels his twelve-year-old self, an immigrant from Iran living in Edmond, Oklahoma. He tells his life story to his fifth-grade class as part of an assignment. And it’s a long story–for someone originally from Persia, stories are circular. The line between fiction and nonfiction blurs. Reading this book is an unsual experience.
His story doesn’t start with himself. It includes tales of his grandfather; mythic heroes of Persia; his uncles; his grandmother. Along the way, he leaves tantalizing clues about the real mystery here–how and why his mother left wealth and happiness behind and eventually came to Oklahoma with her two children, where they live in a tiny apartment in a bad neighborhood. There are serious bullies on bus 209.
I liked how the mystery slowly unfolded piecemeal, and I enjoyed funny scenes, especially about food. Here’s a thought: the delicious brown stuff served on rice for his birthday dinner, which his friend thought looked disgusting, is the same color as what his friend served at his own birthday dinner, a chili dog.
The title, it turns out, is a Tolkien reference. I love Tolkien. It’s an emotionally satisfying experience, this book.
I do wonder whether a typical child reader would have the patience for the long, looping stories. It’s a 350-page book.
Where is parental discernment needed? There is a brief scene of domestic violence involving Daniel’s mother. So it’s not for younger middle graders.
I’ll give it five stars. *****
Update: This book won the American Library Association’s chief award for young adult books for 2020, the Michael Printz Award! Now everyone will be wanting to interview the author!
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