Saturday, January 5, 2013
Review: No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
Title: No and Me
Author: Delphine de Vigan
Rating: 4.5 Stars
No and Me is that book that you wish you had a time machine for; the one you want to go back in time and thrust to your young teenage self, begging them to read it because perhaps, if they do, they'll understand life a little better and won't make all the mistakes they will. It's the type of novel that whisks you away into a completely different world, but its prose isn't flowery like that of Laini Taylor; instead, it's a more subtle type of beauty where each and every phrase simply makes you put down the book and think. I knew, even before I picked up No and Me that it would be amazing - it did, after all, come recommended to me by three of my most trusted bloggers - but I didn't quite expect the level of wonder, of emotion, and of nostalgia that this book would make me experience, all over again and somehow new at the same time. Truly, No and Me is a literary gem like no other and really, I cannot recommend it enough.
Delphine de Vigan's debut into YA Literature seems to be a simplistic story, one of Lou, a thirteen-year-old precocious girl living in France who interviews No, a homeless eighteen-year-old woman, for a school project. Only, Lou can't stop thinking about No or the homeless life she leads and when she invites No to live with her, to become part of her family, she doesn't count on No's own past coming back to haunt, not only No, but Lou as well. In my eyes, the depth and beauty of this novel isn't in its plot or subject matter, but in its writing. Lou, as a highly intelligent teenager, sees life in a different light and it is this - her flashes of brilliance, her incredible insight - that made this novel so special for me.
No and Me isn't an easy novel to read. I'm sure that we've all had an experience or two with homeless people, perhaps less if you haven't traveled outside of America. Ever since I was a child, however, I've been painstakingly aware of the plight of the homeless and beggars. Born in India, I witnessed hoards of homeless people daily, on every street, begging for money or selling cheap plastic toys to tourists in an effort to make a few cents. If it wasn't on the streets, it was in the railway stations as children sold tea instead of attending school, in the airports where they would greet you stepping off the plane - everywhere. I've visited India every summer since I moved to America when I was a baby, but it never fails to shock me, every time, the number of homeless who are still there, who will probably always be there, and most of all, the plight of those like us who are, frankly, unable to do anything.
It is this lesson that Lou learns in this novel, this earth-shattering wake-up-call, but more than even her friendship with No, her dependency on her, her refusal to believe that No and herself really did not belong in the same world, let alone the same life and the same home, was Lou's life at home. Although this novel focuses primarily on No and her impact on Lou's life, it also focuses on Lou's parents; her mother who has been numb with grief ever since her second child died in her arms, her father who cares for No with an optimism that hides his inner grief, and Lou's own social awkwardness when making friends and approaching seventeen-year-old Lucas who is everything she sees herself as not being. For me, it was the realistic portrayal of Lou's home life, of her struggles with her parents and her inner insecurities about growing up with a mother who never really cared that touched me more than anything else.
Perhaps best of all, though, is how painstakingly life-like this novel is. Its ending never wraps up any loose threads, never tries to explain No and her behavior or even the lives of those living on the streets, never tries to sugar-coat the fact that Lou's mother will never be the same despite the tragic events that happened years ago...it's almost an abrupt ending, one that leaves you smiling, with the twinkle dimmed from your eyes. Yet, it's a beautiful story, one that is written unflinchingly, told realistically, and leaves you wanting to simply hold the novel to your chest as you're forced to - yet again - contemplate the simple truths of existence that one person is too small to change. Nevertheless, this manages to be a novel of immense hope and although I wished for a slightly longer, dragged out, or even more conclusive end, I wouldn't have it any other way - this book is perfect, just the way it is.
I'd urge you all to check out the reviews of Catie from The Readventurer, Maja from The Nocturnal Library, and Leanne from The Reclusive Reader.