Friday, February 10, 2012


I just finished reading Nothing by Janne Teller and I'm not sure what to do with it.  The book or the ideas in it.  Nothing is a Michael L. Printz Award Honor book and a Batchelder Honor book.  Both awards are given to notable young adult and children's books.  It is a small book:  just 227 pages and a lot of white space on each page.  But the message is weighty.  Here's the first page:

Nothing matters.
I have known that for a long time.
So nothing is worth doing.
I just realized that.

From there the narrator, Agnes, explains that her classmate Pierre Anthon walks out of school on the first day of seventh grade pronouncing that life has no meaning.  He spends each day in a plum tree on the road to school, taunting his classmates from high in the branches.  Desperate to prove him wrong, Agnes and her classmates decide to collect items of meaning to show Pierre that life has value and to get him out of the tree.  Item by item, the meaningful contributions become more serious.  What begins as a pile of Dungeons and Dragons books and a fishing rod becomes a gruesome heap of mortality:  the grave of a two-year old, the head of a dog, one boy's finger, and one girl's virginity.  And still Pierre won't come out of the tree to see the collection.  Not until things turn really ugly.

So I don't spoil the book, I'll leave it at that. It's worth reading to see what happens.

What I'm wondering is, should I put this book in our seventh and eighth grade classroom collection, available to any student who wants to read it?  I want to.  I really do.  The Printz and Batchelder people want me to.  But this is not the sort of sci-fi dystopian novel our kids love so much these days.  There's nothing magical or fanciful in it that can leave a comfortable distance between its message and their minds.

If I don't put it on the shelf, then Pierre may be right.  I want the kids to think about life's meaning and find what matters to them, even if the book will be disturbing.

There's my decision.  Wish me luck.

No comments:

Post a Comment