Morristown & Morris Township Library YA Room
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Book Review: Nothing by Janne Teller

Alternatively: “Well, That Escalated Quickly”

Nothing is a 2011 Batchelder Honor Book and 2011 Printz Award Honor Book.

On the first day of 7th grade, Pierre Anthon announces that nothing matters in life and walks out of school. His stunned classmates decide that they have to prove him wrong. They have to show him that life has meaning! They decide to collect items that are meaningful to the owners – an old doll, photographs, a cassette tape of favorite songs. Then things get personal - a pet hamster, adoption papers, the coffin of a dead infant sibling. As the heap rises, so do the stakes. Nothing is too sacred to be sacrificed. And when the Heap of Meaning is finally complete, the children reason, Pierre Anthon will see it and be forced to admit that he was wrong. The lines they crossed, the unspeakable things they did – it will all be worth it. Right?

Right?

Nothing is an intense book that explores the nature of “meaning” and whether it exists in our lives. It is philosophical and unflinchingly grim. I don’t consider myself to be a squeamish person, but there were definitely a few moments when I had to put the book down and take a few deep breaths to steel myself for what was next. The ending is ambiguous; readers are left to ponder the significance of the story and decide for themselves what lesson they learned.

So why am I reviewing this book that, frankly, seems to lend itself to a miserable reading experience? First, the storytelling is masterful. Janne Teller is very good at pacing out the story in such a way that even as I was dreading whatever was coming next, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.  Second, it’s not every day that I come across a book about unsupervised Scandinavian teenagers falling prey to mob mentality. But there is more appeal to it than just the novelty. There is something about how straightforward, how matter-of-factly the story progresses even as the events are spinning wildly out of control, to the point where you might find yourself nodding and thinking, ‘Yeah, that’s a logical step to take,’ before realizing ‘NO NO NO that is BAD. That is SO SO BAD.’

I would recommend Nothing to readers who like open endings, a moderate dose of existential dread, and general creepiness. A quick word of warning: though not explicitly described, assault and death are heavily implied at several points in the story. Please consider your personal limits before choosing this book.

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