No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Number of pages: 256
My copy: ebook, from Amazon Kindle Store
Parisian teenager Lou has an IQ of 160, OCD tendencies, and a mother who has suffered from depression for years. But Lou is about to change her life—and that of her parents—all because of a school project about homeless teens. While doing research, Lou meets No, a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou bravely asks her parents if No can live with them, and is astonished when they agree. No’s presence forces Lou’s family to come to terms with a secret tragedy. But can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together when No’s own past comes back to haunt her?
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I stumbled upon No and Me by Delphine de Vigan from Nomes, who gave it a glowing review on Goodreads. I was looking for a translated book to read for my TwentyEleven Challenge and this seemed like a perfect one, seeing as it was translated from French to English. Plus, I have learned to trust Nomes’ taste in YA contemporary books, so I decided that splurging on an ebook of this is worth it.
Lou Bertignac is a smart kid, youngest in class with some OCD tendencies. She’s also painfully shy, so she lives in her own world, admiring popular guy Lucas from afar, and hiding the fact that things at home were not okay ever since her mom sank into depression. During one class, Lou was asked to come up with a project idea and she blurted out “homeless teens” without much thought. True enough, on her way home, Lou meets No, a homeless girl living in the streets. Pressured by her project, she gets to know No, and as their friendship grows, Lou finds the courage to ask her parents if they could “adopt” No. To Lou’s surprise, her parents agree. Lou and No promise to be there for each other forever, but when No’s secrets come haunting her again, can this promise hold them together?
There’s this local TV show that’s been airing here since I was a kid, one that creates a reenactment of some real life experiences that people sent to the network through letters. No and Me felt like a perfect story that can be submitted to this TV show. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the book, really, except that it was a contemporary read. So maybe I was expecting some kind of family talk, not a lot of romance, but certainly not something…well, almost sad.
Not that I’m complaining, of course. It wasn’t what I expected, but hey, shouldn’t I have known by now that expectations in life are rarely ever met? (As a good friend once told me, “The key to happiness is lowered expectations.” But I digress.) But what No and Me lacks in happiness and lightness, it makes up with its characters and the charming writing. Lou is such a character, and even if we’re so different, it was easy to get into her shoes and see things her way. I really and truly felt for her, especially when she was determined to stick with No even at the expense of defying her parents. I felt her frustration when she can’t say the words she wants to say, or when the things she wants to say turn out wrong. She’s young and strong in her own way. Other people say that Lou reminds them of the autistic kid protagonist of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. It is partially true, but I thought Lou was easier to get into.
And the writing. Nomes was right: it was very, very charming. Maybe the charming factor came from how it was translated from French? I read this while I was on the train from Vienna to Geneva, and in my mind I was comparing how different French and German sounded to my ears. It was then I fully realized how charming the French language sounded, and I’d like to believe that that charming factor managed to cross over when No and Me was translated to English.
No and Me is not exactly a happy book, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I liked it a lot, and it gave me that feeling of wanting to be Lou – wanting to believe in the best of every person, even if they have disappointed me a few times. If Lou truly existed, I’d like to believe that she still continued to hope even after all that had happened to her. I’d like to believe that she heeded what her teacher told her: “Don’t give up.”