No and Me is the beautifully told story of Lou Bertignac, a young girl growing up in Paris with a multitude of problems both at home and in school. She meets a homeless teenager, No, and eventually takes her home into her parents house for a short time. The story tells of the impact that the girls have on each other's lives and how each one deals differently with the problems they have encountered in the past.
The book is often very touching, well written as it is, and vividly set on the streets of Paris. It's a really great read and a story that portrays many thought provoking ideas about homelessness.
I was quite surprised to find after I read it that this book is recommended for children and I would encourage adults not to be put off by this. There is nothing childish about the way this is written, the issues that it deals with or the way in which it approaches those issues. There is a lot here for older readers to relate to and enjoy, and I would recommend it to anyone of any age!
.Thirteen year old Lou Bertignac is a bright and inquisitive Parisian schoolgirl; in fact she's so bright that she's in a class two years ahead of her age group. Lou spends her free time conducting all manner of experiments and investigations, logging the results with almost obsessive diligence, in order to keep herself occupied at home; her dad works all hours and often has to work away from home, while her mother is little more than a ghostly presence in the family apartment since the death of Lou's younger sister.
Put on the spot by one of her teachers, Lou has only seconds to come up with a topic for a presentation each student must make in front of their classmates. She tells the teacher she intends to do a project on homelessness and when the teacher offers to give her the names of some contacts who might be able to help her, she refuses, telling him she already has someone to interview. The trouble is that although Lou has someone in mind, she's never spoken to her so she has no idea if she'll agree to be interviewed.
No is eighteen and spends her days begging for money and bumming smokes at Austerlitz station. To Lou's surprise No agrees to be interviewed and although Lou subsidises their meetings and can't always be sure that No will turn up, the two strike up a tentative friendship. By the time Lou has gathered the material for her presentation she's already made her mind up to help No get off the streets. She enlists the help of her friend classmate, Lucas, in her scheme to change No's life for the better and when she manages to persuade her parents to let No live in the family apartment, it looks like the arrangement could be beneficial all round. But, in spite of her precocity, Lou has yet to learn that things, in the words of her teacher M. Marin, "are what they are" and it's a lesson that hits Lou hard.
When "No and Me" was first published in France it was as a novel for adults, and this idea was reaffirmed for me when I saw on the book cover that Delphine de Vigan's novel had been serialised on BBC radio 4's "A Book at Bedtime". It wasn't until I later spotted an alternative paperback version released at the same time but with a very different cover that the book's publisher in Britain has chosen to issue two editions, with the other being aimed at the teen market. This is an excellent strategy because "No and me" has much to offer both readerships.
Younger readers will be able to identify with Lou's character while older readers will find her a charming and engaging narrator. Lou has the same worries and questions as any other girl of her age but things are more difficult for her, partly because she is in a class of students older than she is who have more freedom and experience, and partly because she questions so much. She's isolated because of the age gap between her and her classmates and would have nobody if it wasn't for her friendship with Lucas. But Lou knows that Lucas is not the sort of boy her parents would want her to be friends with; he's two years older than the rest of the class and he's not interested in school. The relationship between Lou and Lucas is an interesting thread running parallel with, and often overlapping the main plot.
"No and me" offers few surprises, at least not for adult readers but the engaging way this short novel reaches its quietly tragic ending is clever and wills the reader to stick with it. The issue of homelessness is tackled much as you would expect and is, even for younger readers, perhaps a bit too simplistic. The storyline that sees No's arrival in the apartment awaken Lou's mother from years of quiet depression is much more interesting and her pain is portrayed brilliantly. So too, is Lou's long suffering father who has no idea how isolated his daughter has become, but still keeps bringing home more academic tasks to absorb his protege.
I can't really see this novel appealing so much to young British readers in spite of it being a very fine coming of age piece. The trouble is - if it has to be troubling - that "No and me" is positively oozing with that Gallic je ne sais quoi and suffers to an extent from a lack of humour, taking itself far too seriously to really grab an English audience. Me? I was transported to the lycee where I joined my French counterparts in lessons over twenty years ago, but I'm a Francophile so I relished the utter Frenchness of "No and Me".
What I liked best was the feeling of "other-worldliness" conveyed in the friendship between No and Lou. There's always a strong sense that No won't come back, that something tragic will befall her, or else she'll let down Lou one time too many, the beauty is in how de Vigan keeps us guessing as to how exactly this shaky friendship will fall apart. What is basically a predictable and unoriginal story has been given some real style by Delphine de Vigan and this is largely down to Lou as a narrator; at times this bookish, precocious girl can be highly intuitive, at others she gets it wildly wrong and what the reader must do is work out when we can take her narration at face value and when we should be more sceptical. Credit too must be given to George Miller for his excellent translation which reads comfortably in English but has an underlying essence of Frenchness.
If I'd have known in advance that this was being touted as crossover fiction I'd probably have given it a wide berth; sometimes, like now, ignorance is the better option.
Recommended to adults and teens alike.
This review first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
When Lou Bertingac is given a school project to do she decides that a presentation about the homeless will impress her teacher. She has met a girl called No who is living on the streets of Paris who agrees to be interviewed about how she became homeless. Lou wishes she could do more for No than buy her the odd meal so when the project is over she asks her parents if they will let her new friend move in. She is sure that now that now that No has a roof over her head that all of her problems will disappear and caring for the girl gives the dysfunctional Bertingac family a reason to unite and forget their own problems. Unfortunately life does not always turn out the way we wanted it to, will the friendship between Lou and No be strong enough to endure the hurdles that life throws at them?
I think teenagers and even adults can fantasise about doing good deeds which will save someone, in the case of a homeless person taking them into their own home will solve all their problems. I can understand how a teenager would think like this but it seems extremely far that fetched Lou's parents would allow an unknown homeless 18 year old to move into their home simply because their daughter requested it. The story is set in Paris where the homeless problem seems far worse than it is in the UK with loads of people living in tents all over the city, however the life stories of the homeless are remarkably similar and No's fractured family background is sadly the same type of background that a homeless young person in the UK would have.
Lou is 13 and has an IQ of 160; she is a tiny girl who feels socially awkward at school as she has been advanced to a higher class due to her advanced intellect. She is a really convincing character as she fretted about schoolwork, friends and her family like a normal kid and despite her high intellect is touchingly naïve and idealistic. Lou has only one friend at school, the rebellious 17 year old Lucas who has largely been abandoned by his family and lives alone most of the time providing a convenient place for the teenagers to hang out. The trio form strong bond and try to stick together throughout both good and bad times.
'No and Me' is a Richard and Judy book club read and so I did not realise that it was a young adult novel when I picked it up. I was put off by the very simple style of writing at first but when I got further into the book became more immersed in the story. It is a book which is quick and easy for an adult to read and, although I am familiar with the problems of homelessness, it will make a teenager think more deeply about the problems. The romance between Lou and her school friend Lucas is a very innocent love affair and contains no material that I would worry about a young teenager reading and I am going to pass the book on to my young niece now I have finished it.
I know that many adults enjoy reading teenage fiction but I am not one of them. I found the characters in 'No and Me' to be well written and convincing and likeable but other parts of the books were not so good. The story is a touching one of an unlikely friendship but the sup plots of Lou's school life and burgeoning romance with Lucas did not interest me at all. I am really surprised this book is included in an adult book club and while I can see that it is a good story it is not a book for me.
No and Me is the story of Lou Bertignac, a talented girl with a particularly high IQ of 160. This is why she is studying in a class full of students who are two years older than her. Her being a lot smaller and less (physically) matured than her classmates makes her seem a lot different from the others, especially how she consumes the humanity and appears to be strangely detached from the people around her.
Lou is a truly outstanding girl who likes to spend her time carrying out fascinating investigations and testing the never-ending supply of ready meals in their house. She tries to put a wide smile on her face and keep herself occupied, even though she knows that behind the closed doors of her home, her father secretly weeps his poor heart out, and her mother hardly ever speaks and very rarely leaves the house. Everything is slowly falling apart.
To flee from this isolated world that constantly surrounds her, Lou roams freely across the city, where she meets No, a homeless girl only a few years older than herself, and makes it her duty to let people now about the poverty on the streets, and decides to take No under her own wing, whilst risking the wrath of her parents.
The two girls connect, and despite the stubbornness of No, and the determination of Lou, they become close, their unusual friendship building.
The story explores the identities of Lou, No and Lucas and how they blend into the outside world. No and Me also works through current issues. It shows the reader how reality can really grasp us like we've never been grasped before, and teaches us about the situation of young homeless women, just like No. There is grief, loss and heartache, and shows us the barriers standing in our way.
I really enjoyed reading this book, the words were sincere and captivating. It showed me there was hope in this world and that we could do a lot more to prevent things becoming like this shady reality.
13 Year old Lou Bertignac has an IQ of 160 and as a result is placed two years above her peers at school. This makes school life incredibly lonely, and home isn't any better either. Her Mother has been severely depressed for years and refuses to leave the house, while her Dad muddles through best he can but cries in the bathroom at night.
To escape Lou spends lots of time at the Gare d'Austerlitz, she likes watching all the big emotions people express there. It's here where she befriends No, a nineteen-year-old homeless girl, and convinces her to help with her class project. As Lou and No become close, Lou decides to ask her parents the unthinkable, and surprisingly they say Yes, No can come and stay with them. But is No the only one who needs rescuing and can a girl from the street help heal the huge rift of a family lost?
I loved the sound of this book the minute I heard about it and was really keen to read it, so was absolutely over the moon to have it sent from the publishers for review on my blog. I knew the basic premise and I knew it was set in Paris and had been translated from French, but other than that I wasn't sure what to expect.
Lou is a strange character, incredibly intelligent but painfully shy, lonely and unsure of herself. Placed two years above her age group at school she has no real friends, being alienated from both girls of a similar age and the older ones in her class. Since the death of her baby sister her mother has been severely depressed and home life has been devoid of any emotion. My heart immediately went out to this lonely little girl, who despite her amazing intelligence is extremely vulnerable and immature. Her visits to the train station to witness 'emotion' were so touching it made my heart ache.
No also hooked me straight away. Tough, feisty but with a real vulnerability, she is tragic in her absolute realness. There are No's the world over who have been handed a rough card and seem to walk from crisis to crisis. Most of the time it's easy to think it's their own fault, they could change if they wanted, or to just not think about them at all. No reminded me though just how lucky I am, and that if circumstances had been different, I could easily have been a No. At first it appears No is using Lou, and I was worried about this, but as the story unfolds and their friendship grows it becomes clear that there is a mutual need for each other between Lou and No.
There is very little dialogue in the book. It's told from Lou's viewpoint and is simple but brutally honest. Delphine De Vigan paints a vividly real picture of what it is to be homeless. The waiting, queuing, aimlessness and boredom and above all, the invisibility and separation from society are powerfully described. It also isn't a clichéd fairytale, where the homeless person is rescued and everyone lives happily ever after. In fact, it's when took in by Lou's family that many of No's problems begin and again I got a real sense of what it would be like to be No and how difficult things were for her. Lou does a lot of philosophising and these passages really are thought provoking and touching.
Despite being translated, I felt that the book retained it's French essence and the streets of Paris where very much brought to life. Mostly the translation is impeccable with none of the emotion lost at all. There was an occasional sentence here and there that came across a little odd, but this really was only once or twice within the book and for the main it flowed beautifully.
One tiny thing I found a little odd was that I didn't really understand the relationship between Lou and Lucas. Lucas is 17, and in contrast to Lou has been dropped two years at school. I could understand her infatuation with him, but found his situation a little unbelievable. While I felt sorry for him, I'm not sure a boy in his position would even be attending school let alone befriending 13 year olds like Lou. It wasn't so much that I found the age difference disturbing and I wouldn't go as far to say this affected my enjoyment of the book at all, just contrasted with the stark reality of the rest of the story. Maybe I'm just a little too cynical though or perhaps this was a cultural difference with attitudes to schooling and authority.
No and Me is one of those books that just creep right under your skin and really make you think. It's full of complex characters and situations, yet is simple and clear in both the writing and the message. It's touching, heartbreaking, hopeful and bittersweet; it's one that will stay with me for a long time. I was glued to this book and didn't want to put it down as I became attached to both Lou and No and wanted to know how things worked out for them. I'd happily recommend this book to adults and teenagers alike, as it's one with great crossover appeal.
~ Other Information ~
No and Me by Delphine De Vigan
Published by Bloomsbury March 2010