Parisian teenager Lou has an IQ of 160, OCD tendencies, and a mother who has suffered from depression for years. But Lou is about to change her life—and that of her parents—all because of a school project about homeless teens. While doing research, Lou meets No, a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou bravely asks her parents if No can live with them, and is astonished when they agree. No’s presence forces Lou’s family to come to terms with a secret tragedy. But can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together when No’s own past comes back to haunt her?This is the second book I’ve read recently about teen homelessness, but it couldn’t be more different from “Don’t Breathe a Word.” “Don’t Breathe a Word” is so immediate and gritty, while this one is much more removed--after all, everything is filtered through the narrator, Lou, who befriends a homeless girl rather than experiencing life on the streets firsthand. But that filter doesn’t make this book any less powerful; rather, it gives it depth and a different perspective--Lou’s a 13-year-old genius, so her observations are this weird mix of insightful and naive.
Winner of the prestigious Booksellers’ Prize in France, No and Me is a timely and thought-provoking novel about homelessness that has far-reaching appeal.
The book is translated from French, and it really made me wish I could read French. The language is so stark and powerful in English, so I can only imagine it would be even more so without the translation process. The writing style in this book is simple and straightforward yet so beautiful. You get this perfect picture of who Lou is just from the way it’s written. There’s very little dialog in the book, and I think it works really well that way since it keeps us firmly in Lou’s perspective. The understated writing also makes the issues the book deals with--homelessness, abuse, family, friends, love, grief--so much more powerful. This isn’t the type of book that needs literary flourishes to keep your attention.
The relationship between Lou, the 13-year-old who’s as mature as an adult, and No, the 18-year-old who’s childlike in many ways, is bittersweet. They are both alone in their own ways, and the friendship they form is beautiful. But it’s also painful, because No’s messed up, and try as she may, she can’t quite seem to escape her past.
The only hang up I have with the book is the relationship between Lou and Lucas. Lou’s 13 and Lucas is 17. I can see why she would be crushing on him (the allure of an older guy and all that), but I can’t really figure out why Lucas is interested in her. I mean, Lou hasn’t even gone through puberty yet and is basically still a child. It came off as kinda creepy to me. Maybe it’s a French thing?
And as one last thing, can I just say how much I adore Lou? She's resilient and brave and totally my hero.
Overall, this is a powerful, beautiful book that I completely recommend. It makes you think, it makes you smile, and it makes you grateful for all the good things you have in your life.