20 February 2012

Review: You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

The individuals who make up the international school in Paris are worldly wise. Most of the teachers are ex-pats, who prefer to travel in Europe than to visit family during school breaks. The students are the children of diplomats and business executives and have moved so often they don't have much sense of home as being a geographic location.

The plot of the novel unfolds over a school year and is told in retrospect from three viewpoints in alternating chapters. Will Silver is the teacher high-schoolers love: irreverent yet motivating, and most of his students work hard to earn his praise. Gilad is a loner who idolizes Will but has not found a way to break into the teacher's inner circle. Marie is a self-aware teen who sets out to seduce Will as a means of one-upping her best friend.

Although the premise of a high schooler being attracted to her teacher is not unique, Alexander Maksik's take in You Deserve Nothing is not what you'd expect. The novel has earned high praise for being "engaging," "enthralling," and "thrilling." Unfortunately, I'm not sure I read the same novel.

Although Maksik's ability to put the reader in the heads of Will, Marie, and Gilad is indeed masterful, the characters themselves are decidedly unappealing. Perhaps I simply didn't understand the novel, but the overwhelming apathy, indifference, and shallowness of entire community—parents, teachers, and students—left me cold. Several events in the story should have had an emotional effect, but it's difficult to make such a connection when the characters themselves are unmoved.

I also had issues with the end of the story, which most reviewers described as thought-provoking. Because I don't want to spoil the book, all I'll say here is that the end made me angry, and not in a good way. If the novel is based in truth, as some have suggested, then I'm also left feeling uncomfortable. I prefer to think of You Deserve Nothing as fiction.

You Deserve Nothing was an Indie Next pick for September 2011. For more about Alexander Maksik and his work, visit his website, where you'll see that my reaction puts me in a party of one. Everyone from Kirkus and the New York Times to Bookslut and Farm Lane Books gives You Deserve Nothing high praise.

Buy You Deserve Nothing at an Indie, Powell's, Book Depository, or a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
My review of the audio edition of this novel is available at AudioFile magazine.
Published by Europa Editions 2011
ISBN-13: 9781609450489
Source: Audio: Review (see review policy)
Rating: C-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Laurie C 2/20/12, 6:50 AM  

I haven't read this book, so I don't know which party I'd join, but your post has made me curious!

Teresa 2/20/12, 7:36 AM  

My reaction to this book was colored by the fact that the allegations against Maksik broke while I was in the middle of reading it, and I found that possibility so deeply disturbing that I couldn't assess the book on its own. I liked aspects of it, but I know what you mean about the flat tone. I think that was a stylistic choice, and it didn't particularly bother me. And yes, the ending was troubling, even if it isn't based on truth.

Jen - Devourerofbooks 2/20/12, 7:51 AM  

I wish I'd had a chance to get to this before the allegations broke so I could actually asses it on the merits of the book, but now I don't think I could read it at all without being furious.

Marie Cloutier 2/20/12, 8:03 AM  

The book has a sort of breezy amorality about it that makes it a little challenging. definitely not for everybody but I enjoyed it myself. The stuff about Maksik's real life... meh.

Beth F 2/20/12, 8:12 AM  

The morality / amorality is not an issue for me. I was bogged down by the absolute indifference of the characters--major and minor.

Jenn's Bookshelves 2/20/12, 8:36 AM  

Ahhh..indifference of characters can definitely affect one's overall feelings about a book. I think you stated your feelings very well. Since we tend to have similar feelings about books, I think I'll skip this one!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 2/20/12, 8:42 AM  

Have not read this one but it is definitely on my list. Your comments about the ending make me very curious.

Thanks for sharing!

Julie P. 2/20/12, 8:53 AM  

I'm not sure this would be my cup of tea....

Martha @ Hey, I want to read that 2/20/12, 10:27 AM  

Yeah, I think I'm going to be avoiding this one. The subject matter is already not my cup of tea, but the idea the author used his real life makes me feel a little yuck. Thanks for the warning.

Barbara 2/20/12, 11:08 AM  

Thanks for the heads-up. If the characters are indifferent, I don't really see why I should take valuable reading time to see what they're indifferent about.

Anonymous,  2/20/12, 11:56 AM  

Books (and movies) that feature either a student trying to seduce a teacher or vice versa always give me a major case of the heebie-jeebies. I tend to avoid them like the plague.

Vasilly 2/20/12, 12:10 PM  

I really dislike characters who are shallow and indifferent and this sounds like that kind of book. I can understand why you didn't like. I'm avoiding this one. Great review.

Kailana 2/20/12, 1:12 PM  

I don't think I would rush out and read this, but good review!

Zibilee 2/20/12, 1:39 PM  

I don't think I would like this one. Cold and indifferent characters seem to annoy me, and the fact that the book seeks to be provocative but only manages to make readers feel uncomfortable is really another big strike against it. Very honest and perceptive review on this one. Though I am curious, I plan on just staying away.

bermudaonion 2/20/12, 3:08 PM  

I feel out of the loop. I haven't heard of this book or the allegations everyone else has alluded too.

Maude Lynn 2/20/12, 4:10 PM  

I have trouble enjoying a book when I can't stand the characters!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 2/20/12, 9:25 PM  

I haven't yet read this one, but it waits patiently for me on the shelf.

I'd likely have a hard time with the cold/indifferent characters, BUT, knowing this makes me more curious and tempted to try it (and to give myself permission to drop it if needed).

Thanks for your thoughts ... will look forward to chatting about this again if/when I get to it.

Libby 2/21/12, 6:11 AM  

Probably not going to get this one. BUT the title cracks me up. Sounds like something one of me kids would say to another one of my kids. LOL!

Daryl 2/21/12, 9:10 AM  

I have found we have very similar taste/reactions to books, so I am going to skip this one ..

Unknown 2/21/12, 9:52 AM  

I normally have problems with unsympathetic characters, but I loved this book. I think it was the realism that captivated me. These characters didn't jump around doing excting things. They just lived a normal life. I can see why the ending made you angry, but (assuming this book is fiction) I think that is a good thing. Better a negative emotional response than boredom?

Anonymous,  2/22/12, 12:49 AM  

Don't assume it's fiction. It's not. If anything, the real situation was worse than his version. AM was my child's English teacher at ASP. Talk about self-absorbed & slimy. Everything was all about him. Even at parent-teacher meetings. He didn't manage to get papers graded that last quarter. And, now we know why...

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