Nothing

Nothing

3.8 37
by Janne Teller
     
 

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This modern-day Lord of the Flies is a haunting existential novel, both award-winning and and provocative. Now in paperback as part of the Atheneum Collection!“Nothing matters.”

“From the moment you are born, you start to die.”

“The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. You’ll live to be a maximum of one hundred.

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Overview


This modern-day Lord of the Flies is a haunting existential novel, both award-winning and and provocative. Now in paperback as part of the Atheneum Collection!“Nothing matters.”

“From the moment you are born, you start to die.”

“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 there is no meaning to life, leaves his seventh-grade 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 give up things of importance, challenging one another to make increasingly serious sacrifices. 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, events take a morbid twist. And what if, after all these sacrifices, the pile is still not meaningful enough to bring Pierre Anthon down?

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Editorial Reviews

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
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)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416985792
Publisher:
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
02/09/2010
Pages:
227
Sales rank:
255
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile:
1000L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Janne Teller was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has written several award-winning novels that have been translated into a number of languages. Nothing is the winner of the prestigious Best Children’s Book Award from the Danish Cultural Ministry and is also a Printz Award Honor Book in the United States. Janne lives in New York City and Denmark.

Martin Aitken has a doctorate in linguistics and has translated hundreds of articles, poems, and novels. Born in England, he lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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.

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