"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.
I have not been able to stop talking about Nothing since I read it (twice) before writing this review. It's ready-made for book club or classroom discussions, and it's guaranteed to provide (forgive me) food for thought long after you have finished reading...
Nothing delves deep into philosophical territory in a way that few modern fiction novels (especially YA novels) do. Within this tale we find themes of nihilism and existentialism, materialism, and fear of nonconformity. Teller makes us think about how we are able to face the reality of death, and still manage to find meaning in life (whether one is religious or not). Most importantly, it asks: what creates "meaning?" I'll warn you that it doesn't answer all of these questions, but this is a good thing for thoughtful readers. (Reviewed by Cindy Anderson).
School Library Journal
Danish kids apparently love a good existential discussion, but the group's circular debates may bore and/or confuse American middle schoolers.
Starred Review. A provocative and challenging parable about human instability. Ages 12+.
Starred Review. Already a multiple award winner overseas, this is an unforgettable treatise on the fleeting and mutable nature of meaning.
Starred Review. The matter-of-fact, ruthlessly logical amorality of these teens is chilling. Gorgeously lyrical, as abetted by Aitken’s translation, and dreadfully bleak.
Lirado, France Nothing is a book which marks the spirit forever. It deserves to be read and reread many times to fully perceive the numerous reflections that it offers, and which are all interesting. The hat off for Janne Teller for the theme of her story and for her style of writing. They are both remarkable!
NRK, Kultur, Norway
It's impossible not to be moved.
The novel asks the immense existential questions of the meaning of life. With its unusual rhythmic and tightly composed language it is an amazing piece of work. Teasingly, grippingly and thrillingly, it describes a group of children's desperate endeavor to prove to themselves and others that something really matters.
The book has a shocking nerve. The story brings to life a myriad of emotions and inspires both afterthought and debate.
Sandefjords Blad, Norway
The most important youth novel of the year.
Berlingske Tidende, Denmark
You're fascinated and can hardly let go of the book. ...Teller writes with a bold ease and an amazing amplitude of language. ...Unusually well written. Not only a novel for youngsters from the age of twelve, also grown-ups should grant themselves the joy of reading this book.
Le Matricule des Anges, France
The Danish Janne Teller dissects the existential agonies of a group of adolescents to the very bearable limits. Breathtaking. …In just 136 pages, Janne Teller engages her characters in a true search for the meaning of life. …Janne Teller excells at upholding the dramatic suspense right until the very last page in a novel that is at one and the same time resilient, merciless and yet very moving. Great art.
Svenske Dagbladet, Sweden
Janne Teller has written a gruesome, stinging contemporary saga, unveiling how the lack of role models and hopes for the future create egoists and carreerists, a new human race with hearts of stone.
Politiken, Denmark Nothing is a fairy tale set in every day life about the very essence of life. It is written for and can be read by everyone - the way it is with the very best of children's books.
Skolebiblioteket - Bent Rasmussen
It's long since I read a novel making such deep an impression on me. …It's a gruesome, yes, inescapable book. It asks the large existential questions: what matters in life? Does anything matter at all? …Nothing is well written and pervasive. Nothing remains within my body, there's no way I can shake it off, in fact I doubt if I really read what I did. But I did!
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Nicole Nothing I read this book when it first came out not too long ago for my book club. I picked up before anyone else did, and ever since I talked about it, everyone has loved it. This book is definitely not meant for 12 year olds, nor would I really want a 13... Read More
Although Nothing's protagonist, Pierre, seems to withdraw from the world, he is not necessarily a nihilist (one who believes in nothing). When he tells the other children he is "contemplating the sky, and getting used to doing nothing," and urges them to "enjoy the nothing that is," his attitude is reminiscent of the French novelist and philosopher Albert Camus. Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche both found some rationale for living inspite of the inevitability of death and the absence (in their view) of an afterlife. Trying to find a way to live life in spite of the emptiness he perceives, Pierre watches with disappointment from his plum tree at his friends who seek meaning in the world of objects (literally, in a pile of objects), rather than finding meaning within themselves. Following are a few interesting details about the philosophical movements and thinkers that play an important role in Janne Teller's story.
Existentialism is really an amalgam of different ways of thinking about the world, all of which pose questions about how...
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