At the front of a middle school classroom in Oklahoma, a boy named Khosrou (whom everyone calls “Daniel”) stands, trying to tell a story. His story. But no one believes a word he says. To them, he is a dark-skinned, hairy-armed boy with a big butt whose lunch smells funny; who makes things up and talks about poop too much.
But Khosrou’s stories, stretching back years, and decades, and centuries, are beautiful, and terrifying, from the moment he, his mother, and sister fled Iran in the middle of the night, stretching all the way back to family tales set in the jasmine-scented city of Isfahan, the palaces of semi-ancient kings, and even the land of stories.
Like Scheherazade in a hostile classroom, author Daniel Nayeri weaves a tale of Khosrou trying to save his own life: to stake his claim to the truth. And it is (a true story).
Everything Sad is untrue is not an easy read. I can’t count how many times I put this book down. Not because it wasn’t good - if anything, it is a phenomenal piece of storytelling. I had to take breaks because my little brain-that-could struggled to acclimatize itself to what I term the ouroboros method of storytelling.
Nayeri manages to weave story after story after story into one another until what is ostensibly a tale of a boy, his mother and his sister fleeing Iran becomes a tapestry depicting village doctors, poisonings, kings of old, Islam’s schism, and so much more.
The recommended reading age puts Everything Sad is Untrue in YA territory, although I see it on many MG lists. While the storytelling style might be a bit convoluted for middle graders, Khosrou’s voice and obsession with poo stories should definitely keep them entertained!
It takes a little getting used to, but once you’re in, you’re in. Daniel Nayeri has crafted a masterpiece of storytelling that begs for a second, third, fortieth and hundredth reading, so take the plunge and let Khosrou furnish the parlour of your mind with his tales.