The Summary


Talented and dedicated, Phillip Malloy lives to run. Having turned heads in junior high, he is ready to tryout for the high school track team and ultimately has his sights set on the Olympics. Nothing stands in Phillip’s way—nothing but his English grade—and the truth.


On a parallel story line, Mrs. Narwin is a veteran teacher—also dedicated—who really wants to reach Phillip. She feels she needs new skills and applies to the principal for funding to attend a development conference. The principal denies her request due to budget constraints. The well-meaning Mrs. Narwin continues her attempts to reach Phillip with little success.


To complicate matters, Phillip gets moved into her homeroom class. Mrs. Narwin’s classroom is much more structured than Phillip’s former homeroom. Phillip hums along with the national anthem and gets in trouble for not remaining “silent and respectful.” As he continues to hum, despite repeated warnings, he is sent to the principal. Rather than apologize to Mrs. Narwin, Phillip is suspended from school. Phillip’s parents encourage him to stand up for what he believes, not knowing that Phillip’s motivation is to get out of Mrs. Narwin’s class. As Phillip chooses to omit certain parts of the truth, the results affect more lives than just his own.


The episode soon escalates into a first-amendment battle. Complicated by a school board election and a much-needed bond measure on the ballot, the issue between Mrs. Narwin and Phillip spirals out of control. The intensity of the situation increases as more people become involved, each spinning the facts to suit their own aims. The principal and superintendent become involved along with the press, a school-board candidate, and special interest groups.


The novel is written from multiple points of view and presented like an epistletory novel: the entire text is made up of letters, e-mails, memos, news clips, and short conversations. This approach to telling the story allows the reader to follow the simultaneous and interwoven events that carry the story along and lead it to its ultimate climax. The story addresses the culpability of all of those who manipulate truth—not just students.  School administrators, politicians, news outlets, and special interest groups who serve their own interests, all share culpability.