Amy Reads Books

No and Me

No And Me - Delphine de Vigan Nowadays I generally try and stay away from fiction that features teenagers as main characters. Most 'Young Adult' fiction nowadays seems divided into fiction that works off the success of the Twilight saga or the television programme Skins.However, No & Me is a novel that, in the worlds of Le Figaro, cannot be ignored. Delphine de Vigan's novel (translated into English by George Miller) follows the story of Lou, a 13-year-old girl living in Paris. She's incredibly smart and enjoys doing experiments on everything from how watertight different forms of Tupperware are, to the ingredients in certain types of food. She frequently visits the Gare d'Austerlitz, and it is there she meets the homeless teenager Nolween (or No for short).Lou is instantly fascinated by her, and thus chooses to do a presentation on homeless young women in Paris as a presentation in class. The novel follows her developing friendship with No as she meets her to interview her for this lesson. The exploration of homelessness is dealt with frankly, there is no glossing over the subject; we see drunkenness, the desperate life at the shelters, the strange pride of the homeless and the dog-eat-dog world in action. Lou becomes increasingly aware of this social problem, previously she had never noticed the amount of people on the streets, and now it is as though she has another sense for it. There are frequent musings on how life can continue, on people's attitudes towards other people in need; how one can simply ignore someone on the street and carry on with little guilt.Running alongside the story of Lou and No, is the fractured family that Lou is from. Her mother is in a state of serious depression, following the death of Chloe, Lou's sister, when she was a baby. She seems unable to communicate with Lou or her father; who tries to continue life as much as possible. Lou is unflinching in her criticism of her mother, perhaps surprising, considering her concern for the likes of No, who is equally hurting and equally vulnerable.These stories collide when Lou reaches out to a desperate No, and invites her to live in her house. No's integration into the family has quite considerable effects; she gets a job and a social worker and becomes Lou's experiment buddy, Lou and the class rebel Lucas bond and No becomes integrated into their friendship as well and most notably, Lou's mother becomes suddenly communicative, and it is her who persuades No to tell of her past, of how she ended up on the streets.Yet the novel becomes almost a metaphor for what happens when people reach out to those in need. The idea that whilst their problems can be solved in the short term, maybe in the long term it will only increase their problems. No is exposed to the apparent perfection of Lou's family, a world that she feels she will never fit into. She becomes almost overly reliant on having Lou always around, and it is when the family head out to visit Lou's fathers sister that No begins to have problems. The impact of alcoholism and drugs sneaks into Lou's home; No becomes incompatible with the way of life that Lou's parents, now experiencing a second lease of life, want in the future; and she thus ends up living with the almost orphaned Lucas-whose mother lives away and whose father left for Brazil. Seeing this degeneration of No, having watched her build up a start of a life for herself, is heartbreaking. She is a character that the reader comes to love, despite her moods, and a character that you only want the best for.The ending of the novel is so, so poignant. Seen through Lou's eyes it is an act of betrayal, an act that disappoints her. Yet it is also an act of honesty, and an act that shows the hopelessness of the situation, the vicious cycle that people in No's position face.The novel was wonderful. With numerous phrases and ideas that are quotable, and had me smiling or gasping at their profoundness, it is a huge shame that no more of de Vigan's books are available in English, because I would be dying to read them. A great read.