I read an interview with Daniel Nayeri before Everything Sad is Untrue was published and I had been eager to read it ever since. For a whole host of reasons, it took me forever, but I’m glad that it did because it meant that I read it just shortly after it won the Printz Award.
Perhaps because it had been on my radar for so long and it had just won YA’s most celebrated award, I assumed that I would drop into the pages and not look up until I was done. That was not at all what happened for me as a reader. Nayeri’s fictionalized memoir is based on his own story of being an eleven year old refugee from Iran who lands, unceremoniously, in Oklahoma.
When Khosrou (or Daniel, as he is renamed when he lands in America) arrives in Mrs. Miller’s classroom, he becomes a storyteller. In an almost stream-of-consciousness way, he weaves stories from his past with Persian mythology and the reality of his present day circumstances. At first it was difficult for me to follow this meandering path – I’m not always a big fan of stories-within-stories – but Khosrou’s winsome voice won me over. Although he, his mother and his sister had a harrowing journey out of Iran, through a refugee camp in Italy, finally to Oklahoma (and an abusive new stepfather), Khosrou somehow manages to find the levity in tragic situations without subsequently denying the tragedy. It’s a masterful line to walk, but there’s a reason Nayeri won the Printz.
There are a few “tricky” things about Everything Sad is Untrue in terms of readership. There are no chapters (although there are frequent breaks in the text), the plot never once goes in a straight line, and the protagonist is younger than typical YA narrators. All of those things eventually became part of what I appreciate about Everything Sad is Untrue, but it was not love at first sight. For some readers, it might add up to three strikes, but for those who enjoy quirky, outsider voices, they will find a soulmate in Khosrou.
Everything Sad is Untrue is available in the LA Library as a print book and via Sora.