No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
|No and Me by Delphine de Vigan|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A beautiful story all about home - how someone who lives in a house with their family can be just as homeless as someone on the streets. Beautifully translated and tremendously moving, it's for readers aged eight to eighty-eight.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: March 2010|
|External links: Author's website|
Lou is a clever, clever child with an IQ approaching 160. She's thirteen, but she's been moved up two years at school and she compares her flat chested, nervous self somewhat unfavourably with her fifteen-year-old peer group. Funnily enough, her only real friend at school is Lucas, who's seventeen and such a rebel that he's been moved down two years. Things at home aren't great for Lou. Her baby sister died a few years ago and her mother has been severely depressed ever since. She barely talks, seldom gets dressed. Her father is worn down to the bone with worry and Lou doesn't get a great deal of attention from him either, so distracted is he.
And then, under pressure in class, Lou decides to do a project on the homeless and chooses a girl she's seen at the railway station as her interviewee. No is eighteen and has been on the streets for a long time. She's the first real outside contact Lou has ever made and, over the weeks of interviews, a bond begins to develop between these wildly disparate two girls. When the project ends, Lou is desperate not to lose contact with No and begs her parents to take her in. Amazingly, they agree, and the decision marks the first step in the healing process for that unhappy home. But can it do the same for No?
Oh, No and Me ticks all my boxes. I was always going to love it, right from the get go. Its central character is a bookish child who finds it difficult to fit in. There's a genuine kitchen sink drama going on at home. The background themes are all about strong social issues, especially homelessness and equality of opportunity. There's been a great deal of buzz about how unusual and even unique it is. And, happily, it fulfilled all my expectations. It's sweet on the outside and tough on the inside. It's beautifully observed and it doesn't feel the need to wrap up every teensy tiny loose end. Instead, it leaves us with pause for thought.
It's such a clever book too - Lou veers wildly between reliable and unreliable narrator, as her precocious intellect gets many things right and her pre-pubescent heart gets things completely wrong. As a mother, I found seeing her try so hard to make things right utterly heartrending but I can imagine younger readers finding everything she does and says making complete sense. It's made the transition across the Channel remarkably well - French mores are very different to British ones and while Lou, No and the others are unmistakably French, the emotional landscape they inhabit isn't strange at all. And George Miller's translation is pitch perfect.
This book speaks to coming-of-age, to family dynamics and to the solitary nature of addiction, and yet it doesn't feel like a book about individuality. It never loses sight of the social and moral issues it explores and, as it juxtaposes a lonely home with homelessness, it lifts itself into one of those singular books that absolutely anybody can read and be touched by. A great deal of rot is talked about crossover fiction that can be read by child and adult alike, but this truly is a genuine example.
Bloomsbury are bringing out both adult and teen editions (I'm reviewing the teen version here) and I hope this gets No and Me the wide readership it thoroughly deserves because it really does speak to us all.
My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.
If you'd like to explore more French writers, we also loved Dog by Daniel Pennac - dogs need homes too, you know. Our favourite homeless character in all of children's literature is, of course, David Almond's Skellig by David Almond.
You can read more book reviews or buy No and Me by Delphine de Vigan at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy No and Me by Delphine de Vigan at Amazon.com.
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