Sheila's Reviews > No and Me

No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
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's review
Sep 01, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: coming-of-age, cultural, current_issues, relationships, young-adult, romance

The last French novel I read (in translation) was Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which centered on a precocious girl genius who befriends a concierge… Today I finished Delphine De Vigan’s No and Me, another French novel, again about a precocious girl genius who befriends… in this case a homeless girl called No. I’m not sure if the prevalence of girl geniuses tells you anything about my readings tastes or French literature. But if you’re only going to read one French novel in translation anytime soon, I’d recommend No and Me.

While Lou, the narrator of No and Me, is undoubtedly a little odd, she’s also sweet, shy, brutally honest about her own shortcomings, and very convincingly nervous in the world of older children and adults. Pushed ahead of her grade in school, she’s the smallest kid in class, seriously in danger of becoming the teacher’s pet. And no-one seems to understand why she doesn’t want to give a presentation. (Any parent of shy children will relate—and any formerly shy child.)

Meanwhile No is just another of the city’s many homeless young women, and it’s purely by chance that she asks Lou for money. Something—a need for friendship, a need to be noticed, a need to be someone more than who everyone else assumes they are—draws the two girls together. Lou finds herself researching statistics of homelessness while learning its realities from her friend. But a child who can’t switch her brain off seems in danger of exploding, and all around her Lou sees personalities falling apart—that fragile fabric between security and loss so easily torn and so hard to ignore.

Lou’s own life has been colored by loss. As she relates to and eventually tries to repair her friend, new threads knit into deeper revelations. There’s kindness, joy and gritty determination in this novel that never quite heals the wounds of the broken but somehow still makes them clear. There’s the innocence of a young child growing up, and the sweetness of new love and old, compromise, honesty and hope.

The ending combines brutal reality with beauty in a masterful way and leaves the reader simultaneously sad and smiling and delighted to have shared in the lives told here. A lyrical, haunting, thought-provoking tale that sheathes its claws in sheer humanity.

Disclosure: My sister-in-law really does know what sort of books I’ll like. I loved this gift from her.
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