I just finished reading Nothing by Janne Teller.
It’s a young adult book that was originally published in Denmark in 2000 and translated into English in 2010. It has one many awards, including a Printz Honor.
And it is the most disturbing book I have ever read.
That’s not to say it was bad. It was well-written. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, which is a pretty high rating for me.
That said, I’m not sure I liked the book.
But the concept was great. And it was immensely thought-provoking. Like The Lord of the Flies.
The story begins with a group of 7th graders. One of them, Pierre Anthon, decides one day that life has no meaning, therefore it isn’t worth doing anything. He climbs into a plum tree and declares that everything is meaningless.
His classmates don’t take kindly to that.
At first, they try throwing rocks at him.
Then they decide to prove that life has meaning.
Their plan is to make a “heap of meaning” in an old sawmill. It begins with them giving up simple things that mean a lot to them, like a fishing pole or a pair of sandals. But when they begin having trouble giving up their own things, their classmates begin to choose for them. When someone tells Agnes to put her prized green sandals in the pile, she retaliates by demanding that a girl give up her hamster.
From there, things start to get ugly.
(Skip the next three paragraphs to avoid any spoilers)
They cut off one girl’s hair. They dig up the grave of a girl’s 2-year-old brother. They demand the “innocence” of Sofie, meaning that they have a group of boys rape her. She later seeks revenge by demanding a boy’s index finger.
When the press gets hold of the story and they gain fame, they feel like they’ve finally found the meaning.
Then they agree to sell the heap of meaning to an American museum for 3 million dollars.
But once the high starts to fade, they’re left feeling utterly empty.
They start to realize that maybe Anthon has been right all along.
And he will pay for what he’s done.
This book is sinister and dark, but really makes you think. I’m not sure I would recommend it for young adults, though…definitely not middle-schoolers. It’s difficult to read at some points. I mean, it’s really easy to get through and goes by quickly, but the content can be horrifying.
I would recommend it, but with caution.