If nothing matters, is anything worth doing? This question begins a whole lot of trouble for a small, fictional town in Denmark in Janne Teller's novel, Nothing.
The trouble starts mildly -- thirteen-year-old Pierre Anthon stands up in class and announces, "Nothing matters. I have known that for a long time. So nothing is worth doing. I just realized that." His classmates are at first stunned, then intrigued, and then finally determined to prove to Pierre that there are things in life that matter. As Pierre sits in his family's plum tree yelling at his classmates as they walk to and from school, they come up with a plan to collect things that matter, intending to bring Pierre to see the collection once it is finished. But what to include in a pile of meaning?
This is where I started getting uneasy. As no one willingly gives up what he/she holds most dear, the students begin choosing items of importance for each other. And as one student is bullied into giving up his/her most precious item, resentment builds, pushing that student to find an even more precious item for the next. What begins with old broken toys, a set of books, a favorite pair of shoes, soon escalates into very ugly territory.
This reminded me of Lord of the Flies, as it carries the same sense of peer pressure, bullying and preying on weakness. The ugliness that humans are capable of in stressful situations (and things get VERY stressful for these thirteen-year-olds) is so much more terrible when witnessed in the young.
I had difficulties reading Nothing. It's very well-written, and a quick read, if one were to sit down and read it straight through. But I wasn't able to. I kept having to put it down, walk away, and try to find something to distract myself from this disturbing story.
Now, while I personally found so much troubling about the actions of these teens, I expect that I bring a lot of adult baggage to my reading. Considering that, I do think this would be a good read for 10th grade and up, especially if in a school setting -- the class discussions generated by Nothing could be epic.