The Funniest, Saddest, and Most Unusual Book of the Year? EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE and its prospects for the Newbery Medal
“A patchwork story is the shame of a refugee” (37)
What stands out about EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE is the way in which Nayeri expertly sews together his patchwork story. He parcels out bits of his past through richly told memories and stories he has heard while interspersing them with moments of comedy. The thousands year old history of Persia with the story of one person. Nayeri will have you crying tears of sadness and then tears of laughter within the span of a single page.
In terms of Newbery criteria, I think what stands out most is the appropriateness of style. The style of the writing is unique in its lack of traditional chapters. The stories do not simply stop, never to be discussed again, but rather they expand and recede, hinting at their importance to the overall narrative. It adds to the imitation of Scheherazade’s 1,001 Nights by pulling you into the story and urging you to read just one more section to see how the pieces will fit together.
She tells them forever without stopping.
Even this is one of them.
But lunchtime has overtaken me and I cannot finish my report on
what I did this summer. (58)
Nayeri consistently breaks the fourth wall throughout the book, even referring to you as the king who has his “whole life in your hands” (2). Within the first 20 pages Nayeri tells you the quick version of his story but then goes on to say:
You know what? I’m not going to introduce myself. You will know me
by my voice. (11)
the quick version of this story is useless. Let’s agree to have a
complicated conversation. If you give me your attention – I know it’s
valuable – I promise I won’t waste it with some “poor me” tale of
immigrant woe. (16)
At the end of this meandering story of patchwork memories you are rewarded with a beautiful quilt that fulfills Nayeri’s promise from the beginning of the story that
We can know and be known to each other, and then we’re not
enemies anymore (1).
EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE is truly a beautiful testament to the power of memory and the stories we choose to tell.
Amanda Bishop (she/her) is an elementary school librarian at an independent school in Oklahoma City. When she isn’t reading, she is adding to her endless TBR pile.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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