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The Big Nothing

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The Big Nothing

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Jonathan Garren
When fourteen-year-old Justin wants to escape the world, he goes to "The Big Nothing" where he can be himself and forget about his parents' problems, his brother Duane's departure to fight in the Iraq war, and trying to compensate for his brother's absence while his mother battles depression and the threat of a divorce. As Justin faces all of these challenges, he develops a crush on a popular girl at his school. Even these affections cause certain social problems because he is white and she is black, but given all of the other emotionally taxing issues in the novel, the conflicts surrounding interracial dating seem to be marginalized. The author tries to work around this by creating a likeable character in Justin, but even this cannot compensate for the book's portrayal of society's unproblematic acceptance of the interracial relationship. This novel would still be an excellent choice for reluctant readers since it covers a wide range of themes and problems common to contemporary adolescents. Given the realistic possibility of loved ones being shipped off to war for long periods of time, this novel offers a relevant look at contemporary teen life.
Justin, age 13, is going through a rough patch. His beloved brother Duane has enlisted in the army and is being shipped out to Iraq; his father has left, perhaps for good; and his depressed mother can barely get out of bed most days. To top it all off, Justin's best friend, Ben, has a girlfriend, and Justin feels deserted. But there are rays of light—he forms a friendship, and perhaps something more, with his African American classmate Jemmie, and her grandmother starts to give him piano lessons. Justin discovers that he has a talent for music, and he begins to understand more about relationships, too. Fogelin, the author of Crossing Jordan and other novels for YAs, sensitively describes Jordan's world and his conflicting emotions as he tries to deal with his situation at home and with shifting relationships with his friends. An absorbing and well-written tale. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2004, Peach-tree, 235p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Paula Rohrlick
Children's Literature
Justin's world is falling apart. His parents' constant bickering was bad, but he never thought his dad would leave. His best friend, Ben, keeps ditching him for a girl, and now his brother is shipping out for Iraq. Mom is fighting depression and Justin tries to be her "Sunshine boy," even though he knows he cannot measure up to the image he has of his older brother. On top of everything else, Justin finds himself with feelings for a girl. He wants to pull into himself and let the big nothing take over. His love of music and some supportive adults—along with his own quirky sense of humor—help him deal with these all too common adolescent struggles. Fogelin uses clear prose to capture the voice of a fourteen-year-old boy, getting inside his mind and conveying to the reader the day-to-day disappointments and triumphs. While the anguish of family members with a loved one in the Iraq war is accurately portrayed, another issue is treated with less care. Justin, a white boy, is falling for a black girl and this fact is a non-issue in the context of the book. In spite of this, the reader will be pulled into the story, rooting for Justin in his relationships with his parents, his brother and his friends. 2004, Peachtree Publishers, Ages 10 to 16.
—Wendy M. Smith-D'Arezzo
From The Critics
To escape family problems, Justin Riggs sometimes escapes into "The Big Nothing" -- a place he can be who he is and not worry about his mom and dad splitting up, his older brother shipping out to Iraq, or whether Jamie Lewis knows he's alive or not. Justin is musically inclined and, when visiting one day after school at Jamie's house, discovers the piano and Jamie's grandmother, Nana Grace. When Nana offers to help him learn to play, he begins spending every spare minute at Jamie's practicing. The angst he seems to feel while his Dad and brother are away is diminished by his connection to the music, and he doesn't mind being around Jamie so much, either! Written more for middle school, Fogelin writes a sensitive, yet humorous, account of a boy coming to grips with adulthood too soon. Highly recommended. 2004, Peachtree Press, 235 pp., Ages young adult.
—Nancy McFarlin
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-Pudgy, quiet Justin Riggs, 13, has a lot to say, at least internally. His father leaves home; his mother is so shattered by arguments, put-downs, and suspicion that she withdraws to bed; and his older brother, Duane, has enlisted and is sent to Iraq. His best friend has a girlfriend, leaving little time for him, and he feels abandoned. His coping mechanism is to withdraw into a state that Justin thinks of as "The Big Nothing." However, popular Jemmie just won't let him sit in silence, and the more she interacts with him, the more interested in her he becomes. When her warm and worldly-wise grandmother discovers his talent for playing the piano, he finds a more productive escape. However, the bills keep piling up at home, he may be failing English, and he worries about his brother. Continuing her exploration of a Tallahassee neighborhood and its middle schoolers first introduced in Crossing Jordan (Peachtree, 2000), Fogelin plots a thoroughly engaging story of teen angst, multicultural and political divisions, and a natural desire of neighbors to come to one another's aid. The characters may be doves, hawks, or m langes in between, but they are sincere in their beliefs and yet can find room in their hearts to pull together for Duane. Serious and humorous by turns, this seemingly simple story is actually quite complex but not weighty and will be enthusiastically embraced.-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Big brother Duane is off in boot camp, and Justin is left trying to hold the parental units together. Fat, acne-ridden, and missing his best friend Ben, who's in the throes of his first boy-girl relationship with Cass, Justin's world is dreary. It gets worse when he realizes that all of his mother's suspicions about his father are probably true, and that Dad may not return from his latest business trip. Surprisingly ultra-cool Jemmie, who is also missing her best friend, Cass, actually recognizes his existence and her grandmother invites Justin to use their piano in the afternoons when Jemmie's at cross-country practice. The "big nothing" place, where Justin retreats in time of trouble, is a rhythmic world and soon begins to include melody and provide Justin with a place to express himself. Practice and discipline accompany this gradual exploration of his talent. The impending war in Iraq gives this story a definite place in time, and its distinct characters make it satisfying and surprisingly realistic. Misfit finds fit. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561453887
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,382,137
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.74 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2007

    The Best Book I Have Read in Forever

    When I started reading this book, I was not interested in starting another book at that time. However, once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down. I felt myself falling deeper and deeper in this imaginary world that the author had created. I absolutely loved it and wanted to read it over and over again after finishing it the first time. I absolutely recommend that you read this brilliant book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2005

    Awesome book!!!!

    This is such a cool book about a middle-school boy (7th or 8th grade. Pudgy, unpopular Justin Riggs is alone. His best friend has a girlfriend, the girl next door is popular (why would she like him?), and he finds solace only in eatng and slipping into the dreamland he calls 'The Big Nothing.'

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