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YA Review: Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nyeri

Title: Everything Sad is Untrue (a True Story)

AuthorDaniel Nyeri

Year Published: 2020

Category: YA fiction
Pages: 368
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map) Iran, United Arab Emirates, Italy, and USA (OK)

Summary (from Amazon): "A patchwork story is the shame of the refugee," Nayeri writes early in the novel. In an Oklahoman middle school, Khosrou (whom everyone calls Daniel) stands in front of a skeptical audience of classmates, telling the tales of his family's history, stretching back years, decades, and centuries. At the core is Daniel's story of how they became refugees—starting with his mother's vocal embrace of Christianity in a country that made such a thing a capital offense, and continuing through their midnight flight from the secret police, bribing their way onto a plane-to-anywhere. Anywhere becomes the sad, cement refugee camps of Italy, and then finally asylum in the U.S. Implementing a distinct literary style and challenging western narrative structures, Nayeri deftly weaves through stories of the long and beautiful history of his family in Iran, adding a richness of ancient tales and Persian folklore.

Like Scheherazade of One Thousand and One Nights in a hostile classroom, Daniel spins a tale to save his own life: to stake his claim to the truth. Everything Sad is Untrue (a true story) is a tale of heartbreak and resilience and urges readers to speak their truth and be heard.

Review: I read this book because it is a YMA winner; it won the Michael L. Printz Award. But, when I looked it up on Amazon to get the summary and other basic information, I discovered it has 7 starred reviews and it is the following:
  • A National Indie Bestseller
  • An NPR Best Book of the Year
  • A New York Times Best Book of the Year
  • An Amazon Best Book of the Year
  • A Booklist Editors' Choice
  • A BookPage Best Book of the Year
  • A NECBA Windows & Mirrors Selection
  • A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
  • A Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year
  • A Today.com Best of the Year
That's high praise! And, sadly, it didn't totally work for me at first. I realize that I often don't the Printz winner. So, I went back and read the description of the Printz Award and it "honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit." Ah, now it makes sense. Books chosen for their literary merit will not necessarily be the ones that appeal to me most and, I'd argue, won't do best with high school readers.

That said, the stories in this novel/memoir are really interesting, especially the ones involving his nuclear family. Arriving in Oklahoma after leaving Iran in a traumatic way must have been earth shattering for Nayeri, his siblings, and his mother. I found myself less interested in the stories involving long-ago family (like all the way back to the 1500s), but that's just my interest in more recent events.

The description of this book also has another key statement when it says that Nayeri implements a distinct literary style that challenges western narrative structures. That is definitely true and it took me a bit to get used to it. That's not a bad thing, I am just not sure American teens will work their way through it. It's more of a free-flow rhythm with "current day" Daniel and the stories blending seamlessly into one another. It feels a bit stream of conscious. 

I definitely liked the last third of the book the best as that's when the author really gets into what led them to flee Iran and the experiences of fleeing the country at a moment's notice, being in Dubai and the Italian refugee camp, and coming to the US. It really was harrowing and the stories involving his stepdad are not fun. All in all, interesting and I ended up quite liking it.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Children's historical--numerous events from 1500s to 1990s (challenges: BIPOC author and ethnicity is different from mine)
  • Diversity--Iranian
  • Historical fiction--numerous events from 1500s to 1990s
  • Literary Escapes--Oklahoma
  • Pop Sugar--something broken on the cover (items in a tornado)
  • YMA--Michael Printz Award

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