1st March 2010, Bloomsbury
246 pages, paperback
Young adult, 13+
Daggers: 2 (infrequent)
Paperclips: 2 (infrequent)
Carly’s recommended rating: ♥♥♥♥+
Summary from Bloomsbury
Lou Bertignac has an IQ of 160. At home her father cries in secret in the bathroom and her mother hasn’t been out of the house properly for years. To escape this desolate world, Lou often goes to Austerlitz station just to watch people showing emotion – in this smiles and tears of arrival and departure. There she meets a homeless girl called No, only a few years old than herself. Bit by bit, Lou and No become friends until one day No disappears. Heartbroken, Lou sets off into the underworld of Paris’s street people determined to bring her friend into the light of a home and family life.
Lou Bertignac isn’t your average thirteen year old protagonist. To start with, she’s a genius. She spends her free time conducting experiments around her house and tries to keep her mind away from the fact her family is falling apart around her.
At school Lou shines academically but socially she’s awkward and knows she will never fit in. She’s younger, smaller and shyer than all of her classmates and all she really wants is a friend, somebody to take her mind off of the problems she has at home; someone she can escape with.
As part of a school project Lou is given the task of producing a presentation about the homeless, something she initially hated the idea of. However her opinion changes after spending a normal afternoon at Austerlitz station, where Lou comes to forget about her troubles and focus on the passengers all around her, whether they’re laughing, crying or smiling, all she cares about is witnessing the love and emotion she knows she’ll never see at home. Though, this isn’t just an ordinary afternoon for Lou because here she meets No, an eighteen year old homeless girl who changes her life forever.
No is a fantastically written character, beautifully understated and misunderstood, as readers we’re never quite sure if she’s coming or going, good or bad, all the decisions are left to us to decide, which is something I loved about this book. Lou is similarly well written; at first I thought de Vigan was playing up a little too much to the ‘socially awkward clever girl’ stereotype but Lou’s characterisation blew me away in the second half of the book, where things really pick up speed.
After striking up an unlikely friendship with No, Lou is devastated when she disappears from the station one day. Determined to find her friend and show her that you can love and be loved, whoever you are, she reaches out to the street people of Paris to try and uncover No’s story. What she discovers, however, is that No is a damaged and jaded girl and no amount of family love and kindness can help her fight her inner demons, unless she is prepared to fight them herself.
This is the main mystery within No and Me, whether No can take control of her past, learn from it and move forward, or if the harsh truth is that she doesn’t really want to change and that’s something that Lou can’t seem to understand, IQ of 160 or not. It’s at points like this in the novel that we’re reminded that Lou is only a child and her confusion and sometimes fear of No is brilliantly conveyed through the page.
Interestingly, No and Me was marketed for both adults and young adults, something that doesn’t happen very often any more. I think it’s definitely a smart move on the publisher’s part, as it’s extremely difficult to see No and Me as strictly an adult book, or strictly a book for young adults. There are definitely some adult themes and undertones in the book that I don’t think are suitable for younger teens but they are written about with integrity and subtly so don’t feel forced at any point.
I feel the second half of the book is definitely stronger than the first half, where the story does begin to drag slightly. However, once No’s character really begins to develop, things get really interesting. Especially when the love triangle begins to develop between No, Lou and bad boy Lucas, who I couldn’t help but be completely charmed by.
In closing, this book is great visually as well and I wasn’t at all surprised to see a film’s in production to be released next year. No and Me is like nothing I’ve ever read before and the haunting (and simply perfect) ending stayed with me for a long time after I finished reading. I do strongly recommend this one and promise you won’t be disappointed.