I heard about this book from KK, was fascinated by the story, and picked it up as a gift for my oldest daughter for Christmas. As any good parent might do, I decided to read the book before I wrapped it and gave it to her – I am very glad I did.
First, as usual, the blurb…“Nothing matters.” “From the moment you are born, you start to die.” “The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. You’ll live to be a maximum of one hundred. Life isn’t worth the bother!” So says Pierre Anthon when he decides there is no meaning to life, leaves his seventh-grade classroom, climbs a plum tree, and stays there. His friends and classmates cannot get him to come down, not even by pelting him with rocks. So to prove to him that there is a meaning to life, they set out to give up things of importance, challenging one another to make increasingly serious sacrifices. The pile is started with a lifetime’s collection of Dungeons & Dragons books, a fishing rod, a pair of green sandals, a pet hamster—but then, as each demand becomes more extreme, events take a morbid twist. And what if, after all these sacrifices, the pile is still not meaningful enough to bring Pierre Anthon down?
This book won a slew of awards, including Michael L. Printz Honor (USA 2011) for literary excellency, Mildred. L. Batchelder Honor Award (USA 2011), Die Zeit Luchs Preis (Germany, August 2010), Le Prix Libbylit (2008) for best children’s novel of the year published in French, Cultural Ministry’s Prize (Denmark 2001) for best children’s book of the year. I have said this before, but it bears repeating – I do not always think ‘award winning’ means ‘good.’ This time, it does.
This is the first book by Danish author Janne Teller that I have ever picked up. Controversy follows many of her books, and it’s easy to see why. She deals with difficult topics. She allows her characters to develop in very natural ways, even if that means they develop very unnaturally. She doesn’t shy away from facing the ugly, and seems to have no interest in simply convincing her reader that ‘everything will be okay’…because in the real world, everything is not always okay. She also (at least in this novel) likes philosophy, which might run off some potential readers, but I found it wonderful.
The clear brilliance of this novel’s idea was enough to make me want to read it. I was happily rewarded with treat of a novel – well written, believable, shocking, thoughtful – everything a quality novel should be. The execution of Nothing neared perfection, and one aspect of Teller’s approach that I particularly liked was her straightforward way of provoking thought in the mind of the reader (there is not a hidden social commentary, like in so many YA novels today, rather this novel makes you consider the points by being very direct and having the characters engage in the same considerations as the reader).
Though the novel was full of ‘deep thoughts and concepts,’ I didn’t feel like it was an overly philosophical approach. Most youth end up asking the age old question ‘what does this all mean?’ Teller’s characters are not only asked that question, but set out to prove that life does have real meaning. The frenzy that the kids enter, over the course of their quest, reminded me of Lord of the Flies – I later learned that many reviewers felt the same way, so that’s not a particularly original thought.
The movement between the kids’ sacrifices, meaning, action and reaction, carries you through the story fully aware that this type of activity cannot end well. The moment you are waiting for finally comes, but the book carries on, and in the concluding chapters Teller actually makes the points that you’ve been discovering along the way. The ending is sad and wonderful at the same time.
I know that many of our young people don’t think they would enjoy a novel like this, but as a parent and a reader, I highly recommend this book.
Buy Nothing by Janne Teller now!