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Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri – Book Review

  • Title: Everything Sad Is Untrue
  • Author: Daniel Nayeri
  • Publisher: Levine Querido
  • Release Date: August 25, 2020

RATING: 5 STARS!

Everything Sad Is Untrue is author Daniel Nayeri’s (true) story. In recounting his story of being in a middle school classroom in Oklahoma, Nayeri immerses contemporary students in a narrative that spans generations and centuries. Daniel (formerly Khosrou) recalls events that led to his family needing to flee Iran, their time in a refugee camp in Italy, their journey to the United States, and many other family tales relating to these circumstances while incorporating narrative elements of Persian folktales. In doing so, Daniel is Scheherazade, telling stories to live one more day and turn the resentment he faces into love (or at least acceptance).

While good novels can captivate a reader’s imagination and evoke strong emotions, great novels create a new experience for readers. Everything Sad is Untrue is a great novel. The storytelling experience hypnotizes as the novel pulls readers through tales that span millennia. One page may find you in Oklahoma while the next page you’re in Iran and the next a Persian folktale. And yet, through this whirlwind of stories, a single sentence can stop readers in their tracks, leaving them to ponder the implications of their interpretation of the cascade of events. The depth of thought it provokes and the breadth of the world it introduces readers is a strength, but it also requires readers to accept the challenge of following those narrative threads. This demand is actually a strength. Working to follow the story brings the reader closer to the text, but Everything Sad is Untrue deserves that level of attention. Overall, the novel stands out as a rare gem within the middle grades/young adult genres. 

Everything Sad Is Untrue is saturated with analysis opportunities and provides educators with a plethora of material to explore with students, both through the story itself and through the enrichment opportunities it offers. The book’s complexities may initially seem out of reach for middle grades. Yet, it is exactly the kind of literature students need to experience to be challenged. Everything Sad Is Untrue will challenge their reading abilities. It will challenge their worldview. It will challenge their perspective on the stories they have been told, the way they remember these stories, and the tales they tell themselves. 

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and publisher, Levine Querido, for an eARC of this book!

Classroom Applications

  • Cross-curricular Study – Teach the novel in conjunction with a nonfiction study of the refugee experience, Persian folklore, the history of Iran, or all three!
  • Literature Circles – Use novel for small groups or choice reading with a variety of books that include folktales from around the world.
  • Book Pairing – Pair the book with another novel the uniquely weaves folklore throughout the plot, such as The Story That Cannot Be Told.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • Persian Folklore
  • Refugee experience/Immigration history or process
  • History of Iran

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Everything Sad Is Untrue. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer (Character Connections, Themes, Plot Structure)
  • When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller (Character Connections, Themes, Plot Structure)

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