Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No and Me by Delphine de Vigan

No and Me
No and Me

Delphine de Vigan
translated from the French by George Miller

SUMMARY: Lou has always been a little different from other kids.  Her exceptional intelligence has caused her to jump forward in school, making her the smallest and obviously youngest girl in her class.  She enjoys inventing studies about the ingredients in frozen foods and going to the train station to observe people saying their goodbyes.  When a school project forces Lou to take a step and approach a homeless teenage girl who hangs out at the station, her life slowly but surely slides into totally new territory.  Lou and No begin a tentative friendship under the guise of an almost business-like transaction; Lou buys No drinks and No answers Lou's questions about life on the streets.  But after the project is done, Lou cannot seem to let go of No.  After convincing her parents to allow No to come and live with them temporarily, Lou is determined to make No part of her broken family.  While No and Lou discover that their delicate connection can blossom into a powerful friendship and bond, they also must face the harsh reality that No's unhappy past might have a stronger pull than any support Lou can offer.  

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS:  This book is yet another reason that I am so glad that I got into the book-blogging world and discovered exciting things like the 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  I fear that without the lists provided and the motivation to seek out these books, I might never have found a beautiful book like No and Me.  This novel is lovely; evocative and somewhat elegiac and bittersweet.  

Lou is unique and spot-on narrator for this story.  Her quirkiness and shyness are matched by her determination and big heart.  Being an introvert with a high IQ has made Lou an excellent observer and her narration is filled with thoughtful remarks about the behavior of those around her and her own confused attempts to sort out the implications of these keen observations.  

No and Me takes on a tough, and perhaps too often ignored, topic: teenage homelessness.  This English translation uses elegant and delicate writing to frankly portray the harsh reality of Parisian street life and the emotional and socioeconomic entanglements that make escaping it nearly impossible.  Through Lou's sharp but idealistic eyes the reader sees No's vulnerability and fear as she attempts to leave her damaged past behind. Like Lou, I found myself wishing desperately that I could save No.  But this novel refuses to allow for such an easy solution.  Instead, De Vigan seems interested in the complexity of relationships built on sheer instinctual connection and the desire to be needed by another person.  At one point, Lou thinks about her interactions with No in terms of a passage in The Little Prince where the fox asks the Prince to tame him because then they will need each other and so be unique to each other.  Lou wonders: "Maybe that's the only thing that matters.  Maybe you just have to find someone to tame"(180).  

I would love to try and refresh my French to read this novel in its original language; the language used in the translation is both lyrical and straightforward, reflecting the personality of its narrator. I read No and Me slowly, over the course of a busy week; I both wanted to savor its beauty and avoid the sadness it evoked.  Like all good books, this novel made me think and feel intensely without becoming preachy or didactic. No and Me is a novel that would be good for high school age teens as well as adults; I would highly recommend that anyone who enjoys elegant writing and a powerful story, check it out asap!


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