Review of Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story)

Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story)
by Daniel Nayeri
Middle School    Levine Querido    368 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-64614-000-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64614-002-2    $9.99

Framed loosely as his twelve-year-old self’s responses to a series of school assignments, Nayeri’s fictionalized memoir swirls through his own memories as well as stories from his family history, circling around major events and pausing to include his Oklahoma classmates’ reactions to his tales of early childhood in Iran. This structure means the story takes some time to pick up speed — which it does once it goes into more focused detail about Nayeri’s family’s journey: their quick escape from Iran after his mother’s life was threatened because she had converted to Christianity; his father’s decision to stay behind. The buildup comprises tangent upon tangent — Nayeri alludes frequently to Scheherazade’s stringing together of stories in the 1,001 Nights — but those tangents are absorbing and full of universalizing detail and humor (there’s more than one poop anecdote). This tale is constantly focused on its telling, with references to an imagined audience and reminders of who characters are. The actual audience is a bit of a puzzle, as the twelve-year-old narrator’s tale spans a wide range of ages in his life and those of his family members, and the overall sensibility seems more adult than not. An author’s note acknowledges the fallibility of memory as well as some deliberate alterations; it is, as Nayeri puts it, “both fiction and nonfiction at the same time.”

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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