Nothingby Robin Friedman
"Sometimes trees can look healthy on the outside, but actually be dying inside. These trees fall unexpectedly during a storm." For high school senior Parker Rabinowitz, anything less than success is a failure. A dropped extracurricular, a C on a calc quiz, a non-Jewish shiksa girlfriendone misstep, and his meticulously constructed life splinters and collapses. The countdown to HYP (Harvard, Yale, Princeton) has begun, and he will stay focused. That's why he has to keep it a secret. The pocketful of breath mints. The weird smell in the bathroom. He can't tell his achievement-obsessed father. He can't tell his hired college consultant. And he certainly can't tell Julianne, the "vision of hotness" he so desperately wants to love. Only Parker's little sister Danielle seems to notice that he's withering away. But the thunder of praise surrounding Parker and his accomplishments reduces her voice to broken poetry: I can't breathe when my brother's around because I feel smothered, blank and faded
Gr 9 Up
This short novel examines the life of a boy with bulimia. Parker Rabinowitz, 17, is good-looking, smart, and rich; he's bound to get into Princeton. He is expected to maintain perfect grades, participate in multiple extracurricular activities and service projects, and, in other words, be the perfect son. His sister, Danielle, is jealous of the attention he gets, but she is the first to notice that something is terribly wrong. Parker is binging uncontrollably, and then forcing himself to vomit. What starts out as an occasional stress release becomes an obsession controlling his life. His downward spiral climaxes when he convulses in his bathroom. He is rushed to the hospital, and after his "recovery" begins therapy. The narrative alternates between Parker and Danielle. Although the ending is a little too neat, the novel does a good job of letting readers inside the head of someone who is suffering from an eating disorder. Compelling reading.-Robin Henry, Griffin Middle School, Frisco, TX
Read an Excerpt
88 days before
My life is puke.
I’m staring at a bunch of puke that used to be one chocolate French silk pie, one blueberry muffin, and two peanut butter cookies, all from Perkins.
My sister, Danielle, bangs on the bathroom door. One fourteen-year-old sister, one seventeen-year-old brother, and one “cooperatively-shared” bathroom.
“I’m almost done,” I call out as casually as possible.
Danielle, grumbling, goes away.
I have to flush twice to get rid of all the puke.
I carefully check my reflection in the mirror. My eyes are red and watery. I meticulously wash my hands and face in the sink, brush and floss my teeth twice, and gargle four times with extra-strength, cinnamon-flavored mouthwash. Then I shove three wintergreen breath mints into my mouth. My pockets hold the world’s record for wintergreen breath mints.
My sister, still grumbling, comes back. “You’re worse than a girl. It’s time to come out and face your public now.”
I check my reflection again. The eyes are blue-green; the hair’s the color of “orange-blossom honey,” says Mom, “like they make in Vermont.”
It all fits the name Mom and Dad gave meexcept for the dead giveaway of Rabinowitz being my last name.
I open the bathroom door.
“At last,” Danielle sighs. “Time to make hearts break!”
I ignore this comment, shoot past her, duck into my room, and sweep my car keys off my desk. It happened today because I’d hardly eaten anything. I tried, but I just couldn’t resist. When I saw the Perkins, I jammed on my brakes so hard the UPS truck behind me nearly ended up in my back seat. I hated myself for it.
But everything’s okay now. I undid the damage. I flushed it all away.
My big brother’s a breaker-of-hearts.
It’s his talent and hobby.
Ask any girl at Livingstone High School.
Sometimes I wonder, if that’s it or if it’s something else completely.
I also wonder if the reason people like me is because it’s the quickest way to get to him.
I go downstairs. The house is dark and quiet, not a single Jerusalem of Gold sculpture or painting of the Dome of the Rock out of place. Mom and Dad are at the Jewish National Fund’s Tree of Life Gala.
I walk to our four-car garage and get into my black Audi. My parents don’t do Mercedes because of that lingering Jewish stand against the Nazis, but they make an exception for Audi.
I drive the few miles to Foxy’s house. I guess he’s been watching for me, because as soon as I pull into his drive-way, he pops out of the front door.
“Yo,” he grunts, sliding into the front seat, the whiff of his cologne making my nostrils flare. I crack my win-dow even though it’s February outside, pull off the drive-way, and head to the party.
Jarod Fox and I have been friends since we shared a bar mitzvah date when we were thirteen. We’re the same height (six foot one), our families belong to the same synagogue (Temple Shalom), and we take the same classes at school (AP Physics, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Span-ish, AP Calculus, AP Statistics).
Foxy plays trumpet in Jazz Ensemble, and is student representative to the Livingstone School Board, vice president of our temple youth group, treasurer of Key Club, and managing editor of The Cellar (the school literary magazine). He’s in Livingstone Chorale, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
We’re different in one way. Foxy has had girlfriends.
And the other thing.
Foxy starts messing around with the controls in the car, which I can’t stand, but I let him do it anyway.
“Dude, when are you gonna let me drive this baby?” he asks, without expecting a reply, because he continues, “I’m asking out Tina Taylor the hot shiksa tonight.”
“Mazel tov,” I mutter; “congratulations” in Hebrew. Shiksa means “non-Jewish girl” in Yiddish.
“Now that Spaz’s committed,” Foxy goes on.
I frown. “I know.”
Pete Spazzarini isn’t Jewish. He’s vice president of National Honor Society, vice president of Key Club, vice president of Student Council, and on the forensics team. He’s in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Make-A-Wish Founda-tion, and Model UN, and he doesn’t have a problem with being called Spaz.
How are Spaz and I different? He likes building his college resume.
We arrive at the party. It’s at the end of a dirt road, more a compound than a house, with outbuildings and sheds. I guess it’s an old farm of some kind, one of the last remaining pieces of open space in New Jersey. The actual party seems to be in a barn.
I park on the front lawn between two trees, and Foxy and I nonchalantly make our way to the barn. Once inside, we stand around trying to look cool, mostly wondering what we should be doing. I slide three more wintergreen breath mints into my mouth. It takes a lot of energy to look cool.
Spaz suddenly materializes with Amber Weinstein, one of the hottest girls in school, who’s clinging to his left arm as if her life depends on it.
“Ready to hoe down?” he asks.
“Yee-hah,” Foxy replies dully.
“I’d pay real money to see you dance, Parker,” Spaz says.
I wish I could think of something brilliant to say in response to him in the three seconds I have before he and Amber walk away, but all I can manage is a grunt.
Spaz and Amber go off to a hay-strewn area that’s doubling as a dance floor.
They start kissing, Amber enveloping Spaz’s mouth with such passion I feel like I should look away.
“That girl thinks the sun rises and sets in his pants,” Foxy observes.
I wonder what it would be like to be with a girl who liked me as much as Amber likes Spaz.
The real me.
“Wanna dance?” It’s Julianne Jennings, a shiksa and vision of hotness.
“I don’t dance,” I answer.
Julianne takes my hand and leads me to a set of rickety stairs. I have no idea where we’re going. We climb to a loft of some kind. A hay loft, I guess. It’s pretty dark up here, and lots of other couples have the same idea.
This is our routine. Julianne and I have hooked up at every party since our senior year started last September.
Julianne finds a free spot literally in the hay, pulls me down, and soon we’re making out furiously. I don’t want to stop, and we don’t come up for air for a long time. But, when we do, Julianne isn’t happy.
“When are you gonna actually ask me out, Parker?”
I can feel her long eyelashes against my face. I can also hear the hurt in her voice. I think of Amber and Spazthe way she kissed him, clung to his arm. I want that.
“Is it because of your family?” she asks.
It would be easy to use this as an excuse. “No … It’s just … ” I start to say.
Julianne sits up and picks hay out of her hair. “I give up,” she sighs.
I watch her leave. I feel sick.
But there’s nothing left inside me to throw up.
They call Parker
Like the brain surgeon on that hospital show.
He’s been hearing since first grade that he “doesn’t look Jewish.”
Whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Parker doesn’t watch that show or any TV at all.
He’s got three hours of extracurricular activities and three hours of homework every night.
I know he wants to get into
Because that’s where Dad went.
And Harvard and Yale are too Jewish.
People think I’m cool, but I’m really not. I just pretend, so they’ll like me.
Julianne is in this category. She thinks I’m the coolest guy around.
I get up and look for her, but the place has gotten a lot more crowded. I can’t find her anywhere.
The sick feeling inside me gets worse until it feels like panic. And, all of a sudden, I’m thinking about chocolate French silk pie.
I walk out of the barn, trudge across the front lawn, and make my way to the house. The front door’s locked, but the sliding doors in the back are open. I slip through the doors, find my way to the kitchen, and rummage around as quietly as possible. I seem to be the only one here. There’s got to be people upstairs, but the first floor’s dark and empty. I don’t see or hear anyone.
I open a walk-in pantry and hit pay dirt. There isn’t a pie, but there are cereal boxes and bags of potato chips and jars of peanut butter.
I devour an entire jar of peanut butter, a whole box of cereal, a bag of potato chips, and four glasses of milk.
I’m stealing this food. I can’t believe I’m stealing this food.
I focus on the food, only the food, eating the food as fast as possible, not Julianne storming off, not stealing, not anything except eating the food.
But it doesn’t last.
I know what I need to do. The mere thought disgusts me, but it’s better than the alternative.
Vomiting is vile, but for all its revolting effects, it’s all that stands between me and regaining control.
I find a bathroom, gag myself with my finger, and hurl into the toilet bowl. Everything comes up in a hot, disgusting rush.
I’m ashamed of myself, but when you think about it, there aren’t any other choices.
I won’t be fat. I won’t be a failure.
My mouth is sore. I can’t go back out there without brushing my teeth. I start rummaging like crazy, looking for someone’s toothbrush, and I find one, and I use it.
My throat burns and I feel itchy all over. But I accept the pain. It’s worth it.
I’m tough. I can endure this.
I hesitate just before opening the door. What if someone has noticed the missing food? What if someone’s wait-ing to use the bathroom?
I promise myself I will never do it again.
When I return to the partyafter thoroughly dousing myself with mouthwash and wintergreen breath mintsI still can’t find Julianne.
I end up in the hay loft anyway, for the second time that night, with a hot girl, whose name I don’t know, from the Teen Tzedakah Project.
Meet the Author
Robin Friedman (New Jersey) was born in Israel and came to the United States when she was five, living first in New York City adn then in New Jersey. As a child, she wrote tons of stories about talking squirrels and girls with pigtails and sold them to her guitar teacher for 50 cents. Friedman has since written three novels for young people.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Well, the title says it all folks. I loved the format that Friedman wrote in and the emotion that poured from the simple chapters was amazing and touching. I also loved how Danielle's POV was included because it let you see deeper into the families struggles and the facade that they put up. Truly amazing. I read it in one day....in school. That's how good it was.
It is a rare occurrence for me to read a book all the way through in one sitting, yet that is exactly what happened with NOTHING. I could not put it down.
It is the story of a high school senior struggling with bulimia. What makes this story unique is that the bulimic student is a boy. As he struggles with his illness, his younger sister struggles with her own feelings of inadequacy. It's tough for her to be the kid sister of a shining star. Both Parker, age seventeen, and his sister, Danielle, age fourteen, narrate the story, which alternates between their voices. Parker writes in prose, while Danielle expresses herself through free verse. It sounds contrived, but it isn't. The result is a beautiful portrait of the very real pressures that teenagers face. It is a story that is human, touching, and real.
The alternating narrative provides not only perspective to Parker's situation that readers wouldn't see if he were the sole narrator, but it also deftly, carefully, almost imperceptibly shows the effects of Parker's illness on his family. This narrative device also helps provide a window into the causes of his bulimia. Lastly, the free verse in particular adds a sense of beauty and melancholy that helps the reader relate to these two souls in a way that brings them to life and depicts an authentic teenage experience.
Parker and Danielle's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Rabinowitz, are good people. They love their kids. They want what is best for them. They try very hard to be good parents. And they fall into the trap that many parents fall into with their kids - they push too hard in the name of doing what's best. These characters are on the periphery of the story, but they are still real human beings.
Friedman also creates friends for Parker and Danielle who ring true. The girlfriend/boyfriend relationships of the older kids are realistic without being risqué. The reader doesn't get too close to them, but then, neither does Parker. It is an effective way to help the reader feel how isolated Parker and Danielle both feel.
There is a countdown that accompanies each change of narrative. This device shows the passage of time within the story, but also effectively elevates a sense of suspense. As the book begins, the reader is told that Parker's narrative takes place "88 days before." The closer the story gets to that fateful day, the more that Parker and his family fall further apart. His bulimia and anxiety accelerate, Danielle's angst and identity struggle worsens, Mr. Rabinowitz struggles with his own challenging health problems, and Mrs. Rabinowitz struggles to keep it all together. Parker's girlfriend struggles, too, with his ever-increasing emotional distance from her. Yet because the story is so layered with each of these issues, it is impossible to predict just what will happen at the story's climax.
NOTHING grabs you from page one, draws you into the lives of these characters, and does not let go, culminating in a finale that is as satisfying as it is hopeful. It is a beautiful book.
This book was incredible. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to flip the book over and start it again! I love the format, and how the point of view changes between Parker and Danielle. But, my favorite part was the '88 days before_____' because it was like a mystery, and you won't know what will happen until the day actually arrives.