Not only is You Deserve Nothing the debut of writer Alexander Maksik, but the title also marks the debut of the new Tonga Books imprint at Europa Editions. Bestselling novelist Alice Sebold acquired and edited You Deserve Nothing—along with four other titles for the nascent imprint. Sebold says, "This is a reader's novel in the best sense. The prose is direct and undeniable, one might say deceptively simple. The story is age-old. And yet it obliges us to ask unsettling questions, the answers to which say as much about ourselves as they do about the characters."

The 38-year-old Maksik, who is represented by Eric Simonoff at William Morris Endeavor, divides his time between Iowa City and Paris, and You Deserve Nothing is set at an international high school in the French capital, where enthusiastic teacher Will, sheltered student Gilad, and Marie, a senior having an affair with Will, cross paths.

Maksik wrote the book in three years, working mostly at the venerable Bibliothèque Mazarine, an evocative setting. He reports, "It's the oldest public library in France with great views onto the Seine. The floors creak, each desk is inlaid with leather, and each place is numbered in gold. There's a strange and arcane system that requires you to show your library card first at the door, then at a librarian's desk, where they take your card and give you a number. I always took seat 10, which faced west and was close to a window. I imagined the librarians were making sure I was writing."