12 Weeks of Hot Summer Reads: Nothing by Janne Teller

This is Week 6 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

What matters to you? What really, really matters in your life?

What if someone told you that nothing in life matters? NOTHING AT ALL.
"It's all a waste of time ... Everything begins only to end. The moment you were born you began to die. That's how it is with everything." What if they kept saying it over and over again and you couldn't make them shut up?

This is exactly what happens to the students in class 7A at Taering School in Janne Teller's novel Nothing.

It all starts when Pierre Anthon walks out of class on the first day of seventh grade after proclaiming:

"Nothing matters.
I have known that for a long time.
So nothing is worth doing.
I just realized that."

Pierre Anthon decides to spend his days in a plum tree doing "nothing" and taunting students passing by with the idea that "nothing is worth doing," therefore life is meaningless, so the lives of his former classmates must be meaningless too.

It doesn't take long before Pierre Anthon's heckling really gets under his classmates' skin, and they decide to take action to get him out of the tree. When pelting him with stones doesn't work, they decide they must find a way to prove Pierre Anthon wrong. They must find a way to prove that there is meaning in life.

Over the course of the next several months the students begin to construct a "heap of meaning" in an abandoned sawmill. Each student must contribute an item of "meaning" selected by a fellow student. The first item chosen for the pile is a collection of Dungeons & Dragons books, but as time goes on the process of selecting "meaning" to be sacrificed to the pile becomes more and more vindictive and sinister.

What holds the most meaning to you? What would be the ultimate sacrifice?

This is a dark, powerful read that might just make you stop and think about "the meaning" in your life. Although the students in the novel are in seventh grade, I'd recommend Nothing for grades 9 and up.

Janne Teller discusses Nothing (or "Rien" in French) in her acceptance speech for the 2008 Le Prix Libbylit.