Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a True Story)

by Daniel Nayeri (Author)

Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a True Story)
Reading Level: 6th − 7th Grade

At the front of a middle school classroom in Oklahoma, a boy named Khosrou (whom everyone calls "Daniel") stands, trying to tell a story. His story. But no one believes a word he says. To them he is a dark-skinned, hairy-armed boy with a big butt whose lunch smells funny; who makes things up and talks about poop too much.

But Khosrou's stories, stretching back years, and decades, and centuries, are beautiful, and terrifying, from the moment his family fled Iran in the middle of the night with the secret police moments behind them, back to the sad, cement refugee camps of Italy, and further back to the fields near the river Aras, where rain-soaked flowers bled red like the yolk of sunset burst over everything, and further back still to the Jasmine-scented city of Isfahan.

We bounce between a school bus of kids armed with paper clip missiles and spitballs to the heroines and heroes of Khosrou's family's past, who ate pastries that made people weep and cry "Akh, Tamar!" and touched carpets woven with precious gems.

Like Scheherazade in a hostile classroom, Daniel weaves a tale to save his own life: to stake his claim to the truth. And it is (a true story).

It is Daniel's.

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Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Marked by a distinctive voice--a straightforward mix of confiding, slyly humorous, and unsentimentally sorrowful--Nayeri's (Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow) impressive autobiographical novel is narrated by 12-year-old Khosrou, known as Daniel, who models himself after the legendary Scheherazade. The chapterless "patchwork story" follows Daniel through his dreamlike early childhood in Iran, a year in an Italian refugee camp with his sister and "unstoppable" mother (but without his larger-than-life father, who chose to stay behind), and their eventual asylum in Oklahoma. The text moves nimbly back and forth in time, depicting with equal vividness ancient Persian tales (a jasmine-scented village with saffron fields, courtyards, and fountains), family history (a legendary ancestral doctor), and the challenges of navigating life as an outsider in "a land of concrete and weathermen." Interspersed with his experiences is the narrator's accumulated wisdom on a broad range of subjects--cultural differences in bathroom habits, the creation of Persian rugs, the roots of today's conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis--which help establish Daniel's identity as a knowledgeable, thoughtful storyteller. Mesmerizing and hard-hitting at once, this work of personal mythology is a rare treasure of a book. Ages 10-up. Agent: Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary. (Aug.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 4-8-- Nayeri weaves stories within stories in this fictionalized account of his formative years. He shares layers of rich information about life in Iran, refugee camps, and his experiences as an immigrant in the United States during the late 20th century. The themes of family, love, and truth are as strong as those of faith, endurance, memory, and storytelling as Khosrou (also known as Daniel) tries to tell the tales of his beautiful, complicated life and family. Nayeri provides clues about other characters without overexplaining them. Tough issues are discussed, particularly domestic violence, bullying, and life as a refugee and an immigrant, but there is levity, too. Khosrou's thoughts on Manwich sloppy joe sauce, using toilets in the U.S., and his father's overindulgence in Twinkies all lighten this tale. Without being didactic, the text communicates the universality of the human experience and the lack of empathy shown by some, not all, of those he encounters in the U.S. and in the refugee environments. The strongest developed characters are Daniel and his mother; however, readers experience varying levels of complexities of other characters like Daniel's father, stepfather, sister, teacher, and his friends (and enemies). VERDICT At once beautiful and painful, this timely story is highly recommended for middle grade readers.--Hilary Writt, formerly at Sullivan Univ., Lexington, KY

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"A distinctive voice. A rare treasure of a book." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
Daniel Nayeri
Daniel Nayeri was born in Iran and spent some years as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family. He is the author of several books for young readers, including Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow: Four Novellas. He lives with his family in New Jersey. Anneliese Mak is an Australian illustrator and animator currently living and working in Canada, with a love for animals, scarves, checking the weather, and bread. She revels in the challenge of telling stories in a single image.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Levine Querido
Publication date
August 20, 2020
BISAC categories
JUV013030 - Juvenile Fiction | Family | Multigenerational
JUV039250 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Emigration & Immigration
JUV030110 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Middle East
JUV030060 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States
JUV004000 - Juvenile Fiction | Biographical | General
Library of Congress categories
Family life
Middle school students
Autobiographical fiction
Michael L. Printz Award

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