Monday, July 4, 2011

Nothing - Janne Teller

Title: Nothing
Author: Janne Teller
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 227 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 2, 2011
Finished: July 2, 2011

From the inside cover:
"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 that there is no meaning to life, leaves the 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 build a heap of meaning in an abandoned sawmill.

But it soon becomes obvious that each person cannot give up what is most meaningful, so they begin to decide for one another what the others must give up. 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, things start taking a very morbid twist, and the kids become ever more desperate to get Pierre Anthon down. And what if, after all these sacrifices, the pile is not meaningful enough?

A Lord of the Flies for the twenty-first century, Nothing is a visionary existential novel -- about everything, and nothing -- that will haunt you.

Good's kind of hard for me to say something about this book without getting emotional. This book is depressing as heck, I was in a complete funk for about a day after I read it, to the point where I had to watch a cute, fluffy movie to get over said funk. Granted, I think it's brilliant, but still depressing.

In a small town in Denmark in the early 90s, a group of grade 7 students (so between 13- 14 years old according to the Danish system) attempt to convince a fellow classmate that there are things that matter in life. Pierre Anthon one day proclaims that nothing in life matters in the end, climbs a tree and stays there. He harasses his classmates as they pass by the tree each day on their way to school, so as he depresses everyone more and more, they all decide to make a huge pile of things that have meaning to each of them. Each classmate is told by another what they must give up to the pile, and that person in turn dictates to the next person what they must sacrifice. They start out pretty innocently enough: a pair of favourite shoes, a set of Dungeons and Dragons books, all material things that have significant meaning to each child. Then the kids start getting ruthless, they demand something more than just material possessions, to the point where your jaw drops at what the next child demands. I can't say much without giving away the whole thing, but I think it's safe to say you will be shocked (they weren't kidding when they compared this to The Lord of the Flies). But despite the shock, it's easy to see the brilliance in how the message is conveyed, I can totally see this being assigned reading in a philosophy or ethics class, it would be a discussion goldmine.

I won't lie, it's pretty disturbing. But if you can stomach the disturbing stuff, you've got a wonderful introspective read here.

Thoughts on the cover:
Again, can't say much for fear of giving it away, but the cover fits the theme of the book perfectly.

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