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Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a true story)

Image of the cover of the book "Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a true story)."


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Book Review

With the flair of a Persian myth, Everything Sad is Untrue: (a true story) is an autobiographical novel of a middle schooler’s family’s flight from Iran. With a death threat on their heads for being Christians, they become refugees, eventually making a new life in America.b

Plot Summary

A middle schooler named Daniel was once a boy called Khosrou. And, oh, there’s quite a story behind that name change. When he’s tasked with sharing that tale with his teacher and middle school class, he does his best to hold tight to his memories, entertain the kids and build bridges of friendship with all he has to say. “If you listen, I’ll tell you a story,” he says. “We can know and be known to each other, and then we are not enemies anymore.”

As Daniel tells his tale, it becomes clear that in the beginning, it’s very much his mother’s story. Daniel/Khosrou was born into a wealthy family in Iran. There were many relatives and good family dinners. His father was a dentist, his mother a doctor. But then his mother went to her sister’s wedding in England and learned about Jesus, and everything changed. Formerly a committed Muslim, she decides to convert to Christianity. However, this is unthinkable for a pure-blood Sayyed like herself. In her world, being a Christian could amount to a death sentence.

Back in Iran, Mom  joins the underground church but is soon found out. The secret police kidnap and threaten her. She’s given one week to stop believing and give up the names of the others in the underground church, or else they will kill her and her family. Instead, she takes her two children and flees Iran.

This is where the soon to be Daniel’s story begins to take shape. It’s a weaving, rambling set of yarns about his family making their way to a land called America: a carpet ride of beauty in the midst of pain. His tales are filled with anecdotes and family myths. And since Daniel aims to be entertaining, there are a few toilet-humored bits in his narration as well.

But ultimately, young Daniel weaves a tapestry tale of a brave mom who gave up everything—wealth, prestige, career and community—because she would not renounce her love for a Savior named Jesus.

Christian Beliefs

You don’t really realize that this story is about the Christian faith until well into the book. As such, it delivers a strong Gospel message through Daniel’s mom’s journey. Daniel calls her the hero of the story because of her unstoppable conviction and how she never gave up hope in making a better life for her family.

In contrast, there are unflattering portrayals of others in the church in America. A particular youth pastor is the pastor’s son, and he is physically abusive. A few others in the church are arrogant and disrespectful to Daniel’s family.

After arriving in the States, Daniel’s mother, Sima, marries a man named Ray. He reads the Bible but is physically and verbally abusive. The church pastor says that Daniel’s mom can divorce Ray after a physical attack. But when Ray works through his anger, the pastor suggests they should get back together. Unfortunately, his cleaned-up ways do not last, and the couple divorces after the stepdad becomes abusive again and threatens Daniel’s sister.

Also, there is a strange moment when Daniel’s biological father visits from Iran, and the pastor chooses to preach only to him about being saved, ignoring the others in the small church. His Dad says he believes and is immediately baptized, but the Dad indicates that he did it to appease the pastor and make Daniel happy.

In the end, Daniel talks about God being Someone who speaks and listens and is the “best kind” of God.

Other Belief Systems

There are mentions of demons who believe in God and who live in agony because they are exiled from heaven, and other demons who don’t believe in God and are pure evil.

Authority Roles

Daniel’s mom is “unstoppable.” And as Daniel notes, she is indeed the hero of the story. Even though beat up, threatened, humiliated, ignored and looked down on, she never stops believing in Jesus or pushing for a better life for her family.

Daniel’s biological father stayed behind in Iran and divorced Sima. And he is a complicated man. He is generous and good at making friends, even when visiting a foreign country. It’s apparent that he does love his family, but not enough to leave his life in Iran. And Daniel often wonders why he didn’t come with them.

Ray tries to help Daniel grow up, but he’s generally sullen and abusive.

Profanity & Violence

There’s no foul language in this tale. At one point, Daniel references an actor’s name, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and his mother tells him not to swear. She tells him, “When you say bad words, they think you’re uneducated.”

There are plenty of bathroom humor stories, though. However, those are more about excrement and the embarrassing things that happened when using a foreign bathroom or after eating unusual food.

There is a brief mention of the pastor of the underground church being murdered in the street. And there’s the threat of death and violence from the Iranian secret police for Christians. Sima also makes a few hospital trips with broken bones and bruises because of her husband, Ray.

During a wedding in England, someone sells drugs.

Sexual Content

One story mentions a king whose wife broke her marriage vows. She is called a shameful “oath breaker.” The king then declares that he will kill each new wife in the morning so no one can cheat on him again.

Discussion Topics

The book has a different style from traditional books. Did you enjoy the meandering nature of the story that was more like breadcrumbs sprinkled along a path? Or would you prefer a story told in a more straightforward timeline? Why do you think the author chose the approach that he did?

Did you feel like Daniel’s mom was the hero of the story? What did she give up for her faith in Jesus? What would you give up for your faith?

Daniel says that being a bully “isn’t punching people or even hating them. Suddenly, it’s all that stuff you’ve left undone. All the kindness that you could’ve given. All the excuses you gave instead.” What do you think of that? Is there kindness you haven’t offered to someone? Are there ways that you can make better choices with your friends and family?

How did this book leave you feeling?

If you want to see the real-world Daniel and his mom today, check out this documentary short.

Additional Comments

This is a book with a unique feel. Although the content is free of profanity and sensuality, the subject matter might be better understood by teen readers and those who are older. There’s a profound message here that requires some thought. Amid the Aladdin-like tales, we find an inspiring story of faith in Jesus.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Danielle Pitzer