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Nothing by Janne Teller (Guys Lit Wire version)

September 27, 2010

I wrote the following for Guys Lit Wire this morning and hadn’t planned to cross-post it here since the first two paragraphs are nearly identical to what I wrote about Nothing a couple of months ago during the 48 Hour Book Challenge. But the last two paragraphs are brand new, so why not?

When Pierre Anthon realized that nothing matters, he announced his revelation to his classmates and left the room. His classmates, all thirteen- or fourteen-years-old, believe he is wrong. They decide to collect things with meaning to prove to Pierre Anthon that things matter and there is meaning to life. But what started as a collection of favorite toys and mementos soon escalates into something darker, as the classmates begin to force one another into giving up more than material possessions.

Agnes is one of the students. She participates in the collection of meaningful things and watches as things start to go wrong. She tries, early on, to convince her classmates they’re going too far. But their quest has taken on a momentum of its own and Agnes is compelled to remain a part of it. The students are all in it together. As a group, they decided not to tell adults about Pierre Anthon, and as a group, they refuse to let any of their number back out.

Written in a simple style that is brutal in its intensity, Janne Teller’s Nothing (translated from Danish by Martin Aitken) is a harrowing novel. If the combination of Translated from a Scandinavian Language + Philosophy makes you think Sophie’s World, stop right there. Nothing has been compared to Lord of the Flies, and rightly so. In a way, though, I think it’s more disturbing than Lord of the Flies, because the events don’t take place on an island without any adults. Agnes and her classmates live with their parents in an ordinary Danish town and continue going to school, trying to keep their plans secret. To use a cliché, reading this novel is like watching a train wreck. I could not look away, no matter how disturbing the situation. Even knowing things would get worse, I kept on reading, absolutely compelled to finish the book.

Obviously, Nothing is not a book for everyone, and despite the age of the characters, probably not best appreciated by most thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds. But for mature readers looking for a disturbing, thought-provoking, challenging (in terms of content, not literary style) read, this is the book for you. I think it’s deserving of a Printz Award (hope I’m not jinxing it), and, to namedrop shamelessly, John Green agrees.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2010 4:07 pm

    Ah! This book! I’ve yet to read it again, but I’m looking forward to it. It is totally compulsive. I’m going to go read John Green’s review now. I smell a Printz too.

    • September 30, 2010 8:43 pm

      Ummmmmm…cough…that’s not actually a review. (Though you probably know that by now.) However! He did write (briefly) about it here.

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