Nothing by Janne Teller

This year I will be reading Lord of the Flies with my seniors, so when I saw Janne Teller’s Nothing called a “Lord of the Flies for a new century”, I added it to my TBR pile. Last night I pulled it out after doing some planning and I read it straight through in one sitting. It is that good.

On the first day of 7th grade (Danish 7th grade, so closer to our 8th/9th grade), Pierre Anthon announces to his classmates that nothing matters and nothing has meaning. We all begin to die as soon as we are born, so there is no point to anything or everything, he says. He proceeds to climb a plum tree in his yard and verbally harass the rest of his class as they walk to and from school each day. While they try to ignore him, his words start to crack their insulated teenage world. As a group, they decide Pierre must be stopped. The solution, the conclude, is to prove that life does have meaning.

In order to prove meaning in life, the students begin collecting items that mean something to them. Each student demands a meaningful item from the next student in line. What starts out innocently enough quickly becomes more intense and eventually morbid. The students are falling down a slippery slope and falling out of control.

This is a haunting book. Philosophical, thought-provoking, and horrifying all at once, I read Nothing in one sitting. Not a word is wasted by Teller and I found myself gasping at points. She does not delve into explicit details, but in some ways her terse wording is even more horrifying. It is a perfect companion to Lord of the Flies and will be fantastic for class discussions. I’m considering it as a read aloud with my seniors.

While the characters are not particularly memorable individually, they are disturbing as a group. As the reader, we don’t need to know them as individuals. It is the mob mentality that drives the book and drives the action. The group is not even redeemable in my eyes, but I still could not put the book down. It is completely haunting. And while the students are 13/14 in the story, the book is more appropriate for older students and even adults.

I am shocked that I have not heard more about Nothing this year.  It is without a doubt one of the best books I have read this year.  It has classic written all over it.
*my own copy

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