Not Nothing

Not Nothing
Age Range
Release Date
August 27, 2024
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To say Alex has had it rough is an understatement. His father’s gone, his mother is struggling with mental health issues, and he’s now living with an aunt and uncle who are less than excited to have him. Almost everyone treats him as though he doesn’t matter at all, like he’s nothing.

So when a kid at school actually tells him he’s nothing, Alex snaps, and gets violent. Fortunately, his social worker pulls some strings and gets him a job at a nursing home for the summer rather than being sent to juvie. There, he meets Josey, the 107-year-old Holocaust survivor who stopped bothering to talk years ago, and Maya-Jade, the granddaughter of one of the residents with an overblown sense of importance.

Unlike Alex, Maya-Jade believes that people care about what she thinks, and that she can make a difference. And when Alex and Josey form an unlikely bond, with Josey confiding in him, Alex starts to believe he can make a difference—a good difference—in the world. If he can truly feel he matters, Alex may be able to finally rise to the occasion of his own life.

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Life is Never Easy
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Alex has had a difficult life. His mother struggled with mental illness, and when she could no longer care for him, he was placed in foster care. Now, his aunt and uncle are raising him, but doing so reluctantly and frequently complaining about the cost. Alex had done something very bad at school, and as punishment, he has to do community service five days a week at the Shady Glen Retirement Village all summer. His social worker, Frank, brings him to the facility and introduces him to the director, Ms. Winston, who tells him to talk to Ms. Sandler. This turns out to be Maya-Jade, a girl his age, who is spending time volunteering and hanging out with her grandmother Vivian while one of her mothers is being treated for breast cancer. Alex isn't thrilled to be at the facility, but he does connect with Joseph Kravitz. The 107-year-old man connects with something in Alex, and starts to tell him the story of his relationship with Olka, the love of his life, during the Holocaust. These chapters are presented in a different font. Alex starts to get invested in the people at the facility, even intervening when the administration and families want to separate Ginny and Dickie, two of the residents who have Alzheimers. All along, we hear the story of Joseph's experiences during the war, eventually ending with his time in the Plaszow concentration camp. We also find out what Alex did to end up having to do community service.
Good Points
Like Sonnenblick's Notes from the Midnight Driver, this is an interesting exploration of the interplay between the young and the elderly. Joseph (often referred to as Josey) can sense that Alex is troubled, and manages to overcome the physical hardship of being over 100 to talk to the boy. Alex is enthralled by Josey's story, and the relationship between the two is mutually beneficial.

Much of the book is told from his perspective, but in a third person, omniscent way, which is a bit unusual. For much of the book, Alex is referred to as "the boy" because of this narrative style.

We don't know for much of the book what has caused Alex to have to spend so much time at Shady Glen, but we do find this out at the end of the book. He certainly benefits from this found family, and the support that he gets from Maya-Jade and the residents of the home, and it's good that he doesn't have to spend all of this time with his uncaring aunt and uncle, or alone in their apartment. Given the difficult living situation with his mother, I'm surprised that social services didn't have him in more traditional therapy, but nursing homes are popular locations for unofficial therapy, as shown in Van Draanen's The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones.

This is a good choice for readers who want to explore the Holocaust from a distance and have read other titles like Lowry's Tree. Table. Book, Marsh's The Lost Year, Sternberg's Summer of Stolen Secrets, Walters and Kacer's Broken Strings, or Carelli's Skylark and Wallcreeper.
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