Saturday, January 15, 2011


by Janne Teller

A Printz Honor Book.

Whew, what a book. It was translated into English from Danish and published in the states in 2010. It's appeal is almost entirely literary, so it may not be the most popular book, but it sure has a lot to offer. I've thought been thinking about this book for a few days in an effort to decide how to write about it.

Here's a quite plot summary:
When their classmate, Pierre Anthon, declares that nothing matters and drops out of school his peers decide to find meaning and prove him wrong. They start by collecting little stuff, then it escalates to each student giving up what matters to them most.

I don't want to give away the ending of this one, so I'll leave it at that.

The first page of the story only has four lines of text on it:

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

I wrote down my reaction to that when I first read it: "Whoa, I hope this book goes on to prove this wrong... if not it's going to be depressing."

But then I found the plot a little slow. However, there's a passage that grabbed hold of me. In it the students are gathering things that have meaning and placing them in a pile. They plan to eventually show Pierre Anthon their "Heap of Meaning" in order to prove to him that something means something. I'd like to share it here:

"Elise remembered when she was six and had cried when an Alsatian dog had bitten the head off her doll, so she dug out the old doll and its chewed-off head from the boxes in her basement and brought them along with her to the sawmill. Holy Karl brought an old hymnbook that was missing its front and back and quite a number of its hymns, but nevertheless ran with no other defects from page 27 to page 389. Ursula-Marie delivered a pink ivory comb missing two teeth, and Jon-Johan chipped in with a Beatles tape that had lost all sound, but that he never had the heart to throw out."

I just really loved the first things they bring to the "Heap of Meaning," things that mattered in the past. Soon after the students continue to collect things that are no longer just sentimental, but have actual value. As the story goes on it gets more and more chilling. It gave me the same feeling that Surrender by Sonya Hartnett gave me when I read it a few years ago: unsettled, anxious, and hoping for a resolution at the end.

I wont say I loved this book, because I didn't. It's not fun read, by any means, but it makes one think. It challenges the reader to better define what "meaning" means to them. It would be excellent for a book club or high school classroom because there is a lot that can be discussed. It's a great literary work and it deserves the recognition it's getting from receiving the Printz Honor this year.

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