Nothing by Janne Teller

“Nothing matters.
I have known this for a long time.
So nothing is worth doing.
I just realized that.” (p. 1)

On the first day of seventh grade in the fictional Danish town of Taering, Pierre Anthon stands up, declares that nothing matters, and takes up residence in the plum tree in front of his family’s commune.  Pierre’s classmates are left to puzzle over his bizarre behavior and the existential proclamations he hurls at them from his perch as they walk to and from school.  Could Pierre be correct?  All their lives they’ve been told they must be something, be someone, but the adults in their lives have not done much to explain how they will find this meaning.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there…does it?

Then Sophie has an idea:  they have to get Pierre out of the tree.  To do so, they must prove to him there is meaning.    The class begins to collect objects they believe have value  in an old, abandoned sawmill.  Dolls, hymnbooks, combs, and photographs pile up in the corner, but still, the heap lacked real meaning.  It’s here that things begin to get personal.

One by one, each person is made to part with something they truly love.  Once they give up their meaning, they pick the next person and the thing they will sacrifice to the heap.  It starts off innocent enough; favorite books, shoes, a fishing pole.  But things quickly take a sinister turn.

Translated from Dutch, Nothing is a thought-provoking, grim and haunting philosophical look at human nature.  The story is simple but packs a great deal of punch.  The inside flap calls it a “Lord of the Flies for the 21st century”, and I have to say, I had that novel in mind the entire time I was reading this book.  Kris’s review at Voracious YAppetite eloquently discusses the reason behind the impact of books like Nothing and Lord of the Flies:

“They hit home in a jarring way that highlights what we all know to be true at our core: That when you strip away the morals and societal structure that keep us all in line and accountable for our actions, people are driven by instinct — and the result of indulging in those basic instincts is not always pretty.”

Part of what made Nothing even more powerful is that it didn’t take place on an island, where the structure of society doesn’t exist.  It happened in a small town, with plenty of people around and laws in place that should have prevented these teenagers from heading down the dark and morbid road they were on.  But it didn’t.

I don’t think everyone will like this book.  It’s disturbing in a lot of ways that will make people uncomfortable and questions ideals we perceive as the norm.  Even I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it.  I do know this – Nothing will stick with me for a long time.

Other reviews: A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, Oops…Wrong Cookie, DogEar, Bookish Blather.

Nothing by Janne Teller
Young Adult | 240 pages | February 2010 | Atheneum | 1416985794 | Library copy
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2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Printz Honor Award Winner, Young Adult Literature

2 responses to “Nothing by Janne Teller

  1. I just can’t help but wonder where the adults were! Where was the structure? Teller briefly has the classes homeroom teacher commenting on his students’ lack of focus… but where is Pierre’s software geek/hippie father that he doesn’t notice his son is spending his day in a tree rather than school? I can’t see this realistically happening in the US.

  2. dlarca

    That is something that I was wondering throughout as well. I can sort of see the class being able to get away with building the heap, but not Pierre just sitting in the tree day after day after day. I was reading the comments between you and Liz and agree that it might be easier to see this as a cautionary tale, or a philosophical exploration, rather than focusing on some of those things that didn’t add up.

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