Nothing

Nothing

3.7 39
by Janne Teller, Jessica Lawshe
     
 

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A story about everything and nothing, a boy in a plum tree, and a 7th grade no longer sure that anything means anything.

"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, which teasingly, grippingly and thrillingly depicts the quest of a group

Overview

A story about everything and nothing, a boy in a plum tree, and a 7th grade no longer sure that anything means anything.

"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, which teasingly, grippingly and thrillingly depicts the quest of a group of children to proving to themselves and other people that something matters in life."
  Information

“A youth novel in Nobel Prize class.”
Lena Kjersén Edman, Sweden

"Janne Teller has written a novel about nothing less than the meaning of life. This book makes a deep impression on the reader and incites continued reflection." The Danish Cultural Minister.

From www.jannekeller.dk

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“Pierre Anthon left school the day he realized that nothing was worth doing, because nothing meant anything anyway,” opens Teller's haunting novel, a violent sequence of events sparked by a seventh-grader's decision to leave school and live in a plum tree. Pierre's fellow students are confused and then outraged by the boy's actions and taunting, and they decide to prove Pierre's philosophy wrong by creating a hidden pile of objects that demonstrate meaning in life. It starts out innocently enough, with shoes and boxing gloves, but anger surfaces. The frustration and fury the children feel, as they challenge each other to sacrifice increasingly “meaningful” things, is visceral and chilling. Soon the pile includes the severed head of a dog, the exhumed coffin of a child, and a desecrated statue of Jesus, among other gruesome objects. Sofie is forced to give up her “innocence”; Hussain gives up his faith; and Jan-Johan loses his index finger. Matters don't improve once the stash is discovered by the community either. A provocative and challenging parable about human instability. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
The seventh graders of Taering School are much like any others, until Pierre Anthon has an existential crisis, climbs a tree and refuses to come back to school. The other students can't live their lives as usual with one of their classmates sitting in a tree, pelting them with unripe plums every morning and yelling, "In a few years you'll all be dead and forgotten and diddly-squat, nothing." Determined to prove to Pierre Anthon that life has plenty of meaning, the students embark on a dire quest. Over the course of months, each student is required to give up something full of meaning, something chosen by the previous sacrificing student. The sacrificial items start small-a favorite pair of shoes, a fishing pole-but become more and more dreadful as the pile of meaning grows. Quietly and without fanfare, the students' adventure develops into one that rivals Lord of the Flies for horror. The matter-of-fact, ruthlessly logical amorality of these teens is chilling. Gorgeously lyrical, as abetted by Aitken's translation, and dreadfully bleak. (Fiction. 13 & up)
From the Publisher
“Pierre Anthon left school the day he realized that nothing was worth doing, because nothing meant anything anyway,” opens Teller's haunting novel, a violent sequence of events sparked by a seventh-grader's decision to leave school and live in a plum tree. Pierre's fellow students are confused and then outraged by the boy's actions and taunting, and they decide to prove Pierre's philosophy wrong by creating a hidden pile of objects that demonstrate meaning in life. It starts out innocently enough, with shoes and boxing gloves, but anger surfaces. The frustration and fury the children feel, as they challenge each other to sacrifice increasingly “meaningful” things, is visceral and chilling. Soon the pile includes the severed head of a dog, the exhumed coffin of a child, and a desecrated statue of Jesus, among other gruesome objects. Sofie is forced to give up her “innocence”; Hussain gives up his faith; and Jan-Johan loses his index finger. Matters don't improve once the stash is discovered by the community either. A provocative and challenging parable about human instability. Ages 12–up. –Publishers Weekly (Feb.) STARRED REVIEW

Indelible, elusive, and timeless, this uncompromising novel has all the marks of a classic. A group of Danish seventh-graders have their insulated suburban world jolted when classmate Pierre Anthon stands up and announces, “Nothing matters.” He promptly takes up residence in a plum tree and creates an existential crisis among the group with his daily reports on the pointlessness of life. Feeling a need to refute the alarming notion, the kids decide to assemble a pile of objects that will prove Pierre Anthon wrong. It starts simply: Agnes gives up her favorite shoes; Dennis, his beloved books. But as each sacrifice grows in intensity, each kid enacts revenge by demanding an ever-greater sacrifice from the next. With chilling rapidity, the “heap of meaning,” which they keep stored in an abandoned sawmill, is towering with gut-wrenching artifacts of their loss of innocence—if innocence is something that ever existed. Teller offers just enough character detail to make the suffering and cruelty palpable. The terse purposefulness of her prose may put off some readers, but that singularity is also what will endure the test of time. Already a multiple award winner overseas, this is an unforgettable treatise on the fleeting and mutable nature of meaning. — Daniel Kraus, Booklist STARRED REVIEW

The seventh graders of Taering School are much like any others, until Pierre Anthon has an existential crisis, climbs a tree and refuses to come back to school. The other students can’t live their lives as usual with one of their classmates sitting in a tree, pelting them with unripe plums every morning and yelling, “In a few years you’ll be dead and forgotten and diddly-squat, nothing.” Determined to prove to Pierre Anthon that life has plenty of meaning, the students embark on a dire quest. Over the course of many months, each student is required to give up something full of meaning, something chosen by the previous sacrificing student. The sacrificial items start small—a favorite pair of shoes, a fishing pole—but become more and more dreadful as the pile of meaning grows. Quietly and without fanfare, the students’ adventure develops into one that rivals Lord of the Flies for horror. The matter-of-fact, ruthlessly logical amorality of these teens is chilling. Gorgeously lyrical, as abetted by Aitken’s translation, and dreadfully bleak. (Fiction, 13 & up) Kirkus Reviews STARRED REVIEW

On the first day of seventh grade, Pierre Anthon announces that life has no meaning and walks out of school. Everything, he has concluded, is a useless step toward death. Pierre’s shaken classmates scramble to prove him wrong. They begin to assemble a “heap of meaning” in an abandoned sawmill. Each child must add a possession of the others’ choosing. The children’s need to avenge their losses spins out of control. A Muslim boy gives up his prayer mat and spirals into a crisis of faith. Another child must contribute the head of a beloved dog. A boy demands a girl’s innocence. That girl demands something even more unthinkable. This story is horrifying, and draws obvious comparison to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954). Despite the somewhat-idyllic provincial setting, the total lack of parental supervision is hard to swallow. Agnes, the narrator, is increasingly matter-of-fact as the horrors escalate, and this tempers the emotional impact of the story. This narrative distance also impedes character development; even Agnes remains unknowable. Her methodical telling sets a lulling pace, though, which sets the shocking events in high relief. The author writes sparely, even simplistically, and some chapters are only the narrator’s haikulike commentary. Danish kids apparently love a good existential discussion, but the group’s circular debates may bore and/or confuse American middle schoolers.– SLJ, April 1, 2010

VOYA - Sarah Flowers
Pierre Anthon has concluded that nothing matters, so he leaves his classroom and sits in a plum tree, pelting his classmates with unripe plums and yelling at them that it is all about nothing. His actions and words make them uneasy, and they decide that they must get Pierre out of the plum tree, so they begin to collect things that have meaning to them. At first they select relatively small things: Sebastian's fishing rod, Laura's African parrot earrings, Agnes's green wedge sandals, Otto's boxing gloves. But as time goes on, they demand more and more of each other, and the "heap of meaning" begins to hold ever-more gruesome objects. The classmates know each other only too well, and know what will be the hardest for each of them to surrender. The tension builds as a sort of mob mentality kicks in. After a slow start, this book provides a gripping look at how young teens can both bond together closely and be cruel to one another at the same time. The spare but beautiful language contrasts with the horror of the actions to create a book that will remain with the reader for a long time and be sure to provoke discussion. Reviewer: Sarah Flowers
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—On the first day of seventh grade, Pierre Anthon announces that life has no meaning and walks out of school. Everything, he has concluded, is a useless step toward death. Pierre's shaken classmates scramble to prove him wrong. They begin to assemble a "heap of meaning" in an abandoned sawmill. Each child must add a possession of the others' choosing. The children's need to avenge their losses spins out of control. A Muslim boy gives up his prayer mat and spirals into a crisis of faith. Another child must contribute the head of a beloved dog. A boy demands a girl's innocence. That girl demands something even more unthinkable. This story is horrifying, and draws obvious comparison to William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954). Despite the somewhat-idyllic provincial setting, the total lack of parental supervision is hard to swallow. Agnes, the narrator, is increasingly matter-of-fact as the horrors escalate, and this tempers the emotional impact of the story. This narrative distance also impedes character development; even Agnes remains unknowable. Her methodical telling sets a lulling pace, though, which sets the shocking events in high relief. The author writes sparely, even simplistically, and some chapters are only the narrator's haikulike commentary. Danish kids apparently love a good existential discussion, but the group's circular debates may bore and/or confuse American middle schoolers.—Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307942357
Publisher:
Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/13/2011
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.80(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Nothing


By Janne Teller

Atheneum

Copyright © 2010 Janne Teller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781416985792

I


Nothing matters.


I have known that for a long time.


So nothing is worth doing.


I just realized that.


? 2010 Janne Teller

II


Pierre Anthon left school the day he realized that nothing was worth doing, because nothing meant anything anyway.


The rest of us stayed on.


And although the teachers had a job on their hands tidying up after Pierre Anthon in the classroom as well as in our heads, part of Pierre Anthon remained stuck inside of us. Maybe that was why it all turned out the way it did.


It was the second week of August. The sun was heavy, making us slow and irritable, the tarmac caught on the soles of our sneakers, and apples and pears were just ripe enough to lie snugly in the hand, the perfect missiles. We looked neither left nor right. It was the first day of school after summer vacation. The classroom smelled of detergent and weeks of emptiness, the windows reflected clear and bright, and the blackboard was yet to be blanketed with chalk dust. The desks stood two by two in rows as straight as hospital corridors, as they did only on this one day of the year. Class 7A.


We found our seats without caring to shake any familiarity into the orderliness.


There?s a time for everything. Better things, jumbled things. But not today!


Mr. Eskildsen bid us welcome with the same joke he made every year.


?Take joy in this day, children,? he said. ?There would be no such thing as vacation were it not for such a thing as school.?


We laughed. Not because it was funny, but because him saying it was.


It was then that Pierre Anthon stood up.


?Nothing matters,? he announced. ?I?ve known that for a long time. So nothing?s worth doing. I just realized that.? Calm and collected, he bent down and put everything he had just taken out back into his bag. He nodded good-bye with a disinterested look and left the classroom without closing the door behind him.


The door smiled. It was the first time I?d seen it do that. Pierre Anthon left the door ajar like a grinning abyss that would swallow me up into the outside with him if only I let myself go. Smiling at whom? At me, at us. I looked around the class. The uncomfortable silence told me the others had felt it too.


We were supposed to amount to something.


Something was the same as someone, and even if nobody ever said so out loud, it was hardly left unspoken, either. It was just in the air, or in the time, or in the fence surrounding the school, or in our pillows, or in the soft toys that after having served us so loyally had now been unjustly discarded and left to gather dust in attics or basements. I hadn?t known. Pierre Anthon?s smiling door told me. I still didn?t know with my mind, but all the same I knew.


All of a sudden I was scared. Scared of Pierre Anthon.


Scared, more scared, most scared.


????


We lived in T?ring, an outpost to a fair-size provincial town. Not swank, but almost. We?d often be reminded of the fact. Nobody ever said so out loud, yet it was hardly left unspoken, either. Neat, yellow-washed brick homes and red bungalows with gardens running all the way round, new gray-brown rows with gardens out front, and then the apartment houses, home to those we never played with. There were some old timber-framed cottages, too, and farms that were no longer farms, the land developed into town, and a few rather more imposing whitewashed residences for those who were more almost-swank than the rest of us.


T?ring School was situated on the corner of two streets. All of us except Elise lived down the one called T?ringvej. Sometimes Elise would go the long way around just to walk to school with the rest of us. At least until Pierre Anthon left.


Pierre Anthon lived with his father and the rest of the commune in an old farmhouse at T?ringvej number 25. Pierre Anthon?s father and the commune were all hippies who were still stuck in ?68. That was what our parents said, and even though we didn?t really know what it meant, we said it too. In the front yard by the street there was a plum tree. It was a tall tree, old and crooked, leaning out over the hedge to tempt us with its dusty red Victoria plums, which none of us could reach. Other years we?d jump to get at the plums. We stopped doing that. Pierre Anthon left school to sit in the plum tree and pelt us with unripe plums. Some of them hit home. Not because Pierre Anthon was aiming at us, because that wasn?t worth it, he proclaimed. It was just chance that made it so.


He yelled at us too.


?It?s all a waste of time,? he yelled one day. ?Everything begins only to end. The moment you were born you began to die. That?s how it is with everything.?


?The Earth is four billion, six hundred million years old, and you?re going to reach one hundred at the most!? he yelled another day. ?It?s not even worth the bother.?


And he went on, ?It?s all a big masquerade, all make-believe and making out you?re the best at it.?


Nothing had ever indicated that Pierre Anthon was the smartest among us, but suddenly we all knew he was. He was onto something. Even if none of us cared to admit it. Not to our parents, not to our teachers, not to one another. Not even to ourselves. We didn?t want to live in the world Pierre Anthon was telling us about. We were going to amount to something, be someone.


The smiling door wasn?t going to lure us.


No, sir. No way!


That was why we came up with the idea. ?We? is perhaps an exaggeration, because it was Pierre Anthon who got us going.


It was one morning when Sofie had been hit in the head by two hard plums one after another, and she was so mad at Pierre Anthon for just sitting there in his tree, disheartening all of us.


?All you ever do is sit there gawking. Is that any better?? she yelled.


?I?m not gawking,? Pierre Anthon replied calmly. ?I?m contemplating the sky and getting used to doing nothing.?


?The heck you are!? Sofie yelled angrily, and hurled a stick up at Pierre Anthon in the plum tree. It landed in the hedge, way beneath him.


Pierre Anthon laughed and hollered so loud they could have heard him all the way up at the school.


?If something?s worth getting upset about, then there must be something worth getting happy about. And if something?s worth getting happy about, then there must be something that matters. But there isn?t!? He raised his voice a notch and roared, ?In a few years you?ll all be dead and forgotten and diddly-squat, nothing, so you might just as well start getting used to it!?


That was when we understood we had to get Pierre Anthon out of that plum tree.


? 2010 Janne Teller



Continues...

Excerpted from Nothing by Janne Teller Copyright © 2010 by Janne Teller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

After working at the United Nations in conflict resolution, Janne Teller became a full-time novelist.  Since her debut novel Odin’s Island, she has published The Trampling Cat, Come, and other books that have been translated into many languages.  Nothing is her first young adult novel.  She divides her time between Copenhagen, New York, and Paris. 

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Nothing 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Veronica_Corningstone More than 1 year ago
Nothing by Janne Teller is a real disturbing, fascinatingly upsetting diamond in the rocks. In a world where awful vampire romance books reign supreme, this book is a wonderful, much-needed change. A lone student, Pierre Anthon decides life has no meaning anymore. He leaves school to sit in a plum tree and contemplate on becoming part of the nothingness that is life. The students from Pierre Anthon's seventh grade class decide to prove him wrong and show him that life does in fact have meaning. The students begin to gather everything that is meaningful into a heap. Here's the twist; in all fairness, no one is allowed to chose for themselves which belongings they are to give up. At one another's mercy the students turn vindictive and malicious gradually forcing each other to sacrifice increasingly more important things until Nothing reaches a heart-wrenching crescendo. Nothing is fairly short which is good news for those readers out there who get bored easily. Though, this book is not for the faint of heart. If you are a squeamish, easily upset person THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR YOU! Also if you enjoy happy endings this book is definitely not for you. Nothing reads like a dream, or a breathtaking nightmare. Nothing is a book for readers who can handle the harsh realities of life, rather than the cheery mantra that has been drilled into us since pre-school. It's message cuts deeply to the core; what is the meaning of life and how far will we go to learn this knowledge? Nothing's plot is ferociously disturbing as the children's actions desperately escalate to a roaring climax. Nothing is a coming-of-age story. It touches on the major themes that growing up entails: the death of childhood and the painful transition into adulthood. The children discover the meaning of life, irrevocably learned.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is probably one of the most life changing books I've ever read. It is disturbing, but it's extremely thought provoking, and at sometimes depressing. But, if depressing can be meant in a good way, I mean it in that way.
Lawral More than 1 year ago
Disturbing does not even begin to cover it. Nothing is a tiny book. It's shorter than most and more narrow. The story takes up slightly more than 200 pages, and those pages contain a lot of white space. Still, it is probably the most disturbing book I've ever read. And almost not even in a good way. Don't get me wrong, Nothing is a wonderfully written book. Not a single word is superfluous and yet the story feels expansive. We see the whole thing from Agnes' point of view, and yet the feelings of others and the crowd mentality of the group are clear. It's got a kind of terrible, terrifying beauty to it. As Agnes and her classmates try to collect things to counter Pierre Anthon's nothingness, things take a definite turn towards the sinister. If they're going to prove meaning, these things must really mean something to the person who has to give them up. And each time someone has to give something up, they get to choose what the next person has to lose. This accumulation of things starts out as mean and a bit vindictive, but it very quickly spirals out of control until it is not just things that are being accumulated. Friendships break up, kids get in trouble, alliances are formed, and people get both emotionally and physically hurt. Watching what these kids require of their friends and classmates, what they deam worthy sacrifices to the "heap of meaning," was like driving past a multiple car pile-up on the freeway. It's gruesome and terrible, but you can't help but look. I finished this book in a single day, holding my hand over my gaping mouth for the last 50 pages or so (and more than a few times before that as well). I was repulsed and hooked at the same time. This is an engrossing and haunting read. Book source: Philly Free Library
Emfield More than 1 year ago
I'll start out by saying that this book is 98 pages, not the 244 the barnes and noble claims it is. It is also cheaper on amazon that it is here. With that being said, the book was shall we say, a story of teenagers who's minds were warped and twisted and whose families took no notice. There were a lot of things that didn't quite add up in the story, everything happened too easily for the children and their minds were too quick to meander away from sanity. I'd say it's a good book for psych students, but not really a good read. I definitely wouldn't say this is a children's book. The shear acts that are committed in this book at least would be an R movie if not an NC-17 rating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Painful on every page. If you read Lord of the Flies, you don't need to read this. People do horrible things to each other in reality, I don't need to read about it in fiction.
Chancie More than 1 year ago
I've known about some of the dark things that happen in this book, so maybe if I hadn't, I would've found it more shocking. It is dark, but some of it feels far fetched, particularly about the end result of everything they've done at the end of the book. It's an enjoyable/interesting read that does sit with you after. The translation is a little wonky and damages the atmosphere at times, but it's easy to push on through that aspect.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It wouldn't let me reopen the book after I started reading it and had already purchased it. But from the little I read, I could tell it was good. But depressing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was Amazing. I couldn't put it down! Its a must read!
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Well written read on a dark topic--gave some insight to the mind set of teenagers! I see where it could stimulate a great deal of discussion for young readers.
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I adore this book so much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In their quest for meaning, some eighth brade kids give up things that matter to them. Someone eles gets to chose, and it quickly escalates from earings and sandals to virginity and fingers. While i am tempted to recommend this to everyone who can read i am warning you all now that if you read Nothing your life will never be the same. Think before you read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book, was just disturbing on many levels, kids that believe nothing in the world matters and theres no point to life, i did not like this book, and it is the only book i have ever read that i did not like, the only reason i finished it was because i had to read it for school
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