For high school senior Parker Rabinowitz, anything less than success is a failure. He runs track. He has a 4.0 average. He is voted the school’s sex symbol. He writes for the newspaper and runs at least half a dozen clubs.And he is bulimic.
Robin Friedman’s novel, Nothing, traces the eighty-eight days before his collapse as well as its aftermath. The story, told in alternating chapters by Parker and his younger sister, Danielle, feels inevitable and at times, frustrating. As Parker binges and purges, no one notices. The disease takes over his life, and he gets no help. He withdraws from family and friends. Friedman does an excellent job of showing the insidious nature of eating disorders. Parker’s interior monologue is filled with isolation, self loathing, and insecurity. Although everyone else sees him as highly successful, the reader learns the terrifying truth. Unfortunately, there are some missteps. Parker’s father’s diagnosis of male breast cancer is strange at best, and makes us question how much Friedman trusts the reader. She also shows the worst stereotypes of a Jewish family. The Rabinowitz family’s blatantly superficial Jewish experience, constant black tie events and named parties infuse a cynical tone to the text. Also, Parker often refers to Julianne, his non-Jewish girlfriend, as a shiksa. This uncomfortable, outdated language may have been used for humor, but it leaves the reader with less empathy for Parker. The best part of this book is Danielle. Her honest narratives, written in effective delineated prose, are filled with love, fear, and envy. Her scant comments harness the vulnerability and fear we all have when dealing with this disease. It is through Danielle that the reader experiences the breakdown and salvation of this Jewish family. Nothing offers a compelling discussion, recommended for readers 14 and up.