What do readers say…
“Even if your life starts out badly it doesn’t mean your life can’t change. Things will end up ok if you believe they will.” – Valerie
“You can run from the past (or even the present) or…learn from it.” – Mary
If everything is wrong, life is not over. Just suck it up and live on.” – Max
Justin Riggs is a big fat zero.
Not popular or athletic—he’s not even tall. And these days his world is falling apart faster than his sneakers.
His best friend Ben spends all his time with a new girlfriend. His dad has hit the road, possibly for good this time; his mom’s having a hard time staying vertical; and his older brother, who always held the family together, is about to be deployed to Iraq. There’s not much left for Justin to do but put his brain in neutral and slide into the state he calls “The Big Nothing.”
But even as the people he’s always counted on let him down, Justin discovers something inside himself—a hidden talent—that helps him survive. And he gets lots of help from a girl named Jemmie Lewis. She sees him as just a friend-but that could change.
Like Jemmie’s grandmother says, “Won’t know unless you try.”
Where did the story idea come from?
If you’ve read the other books in this series (Crossing Jordan, Anna Casey’s Place in the World, and My Brother’s Hero) and if you remember Justin at all, you’re probably wondering, why write about him? All he’s ever been is Ben Floyd’s shorter, less athletic sidekick, a kid who wraps duct tape around his falling-apart sneakers, and shows up for every basketball game or bike race—but never makes a difference. I never thought about him much myself until, in My Brother’s Hero, he asked Ben, ‘Did you ever wonder what it’s like to be dead?’ After that I thought about him a lot. Why would he say a thing like that? I had to write the book to find out.
I wrote the first draft of The Big Nothing in the winter of 2003 just as the situation in Iraq was heating up. Like most Americans I was concerned about the impending war, worried, glued to the news—but I didn’t know that the war would become part of my story. All of a sudden (unplanned by me) my character, Duane, a soldier in training, started calling home and asking his brother, Justin, if he’d been watching the news, because it looked like he was going to be shipped to the Persian Gulf.
My concerns about the war are woven into this story, but they’re dealt with in the way that novelists do; through my characters. In the book I portray a kid who gets sent to war, and how it affects the family left behind who can only watch the fight on their TV. Incidentally, since I was writing the story in real time (as the situation was unfolding) I never really knew what I was going to write next. Like Justin and his mother, I watched the news constantly to see what would happen to Duane.
“Mr. Sohmer”, the old piano Nana Grace and Justin play, sits in my writing room collecting dust and family photos. I took piano lessons when I was Justin’s age but unlike Justin I never got very good at it. I wish Justin were here to play my old piano.
The game Justin introduces Jemmie to in the Dollar Movies, Ellie and Phantor, the battling pachaderms, was stolen from my husband’s family. He had lots of brothers and sisters and this was one of the games they played (remind me to tell you about “Baby Hand” some time).