YA book review: No and Me by Delphine De Vigan

No and Me was first published in France in 2007, and won the Prix des Libraires (The Booksellers’ Prize) the Prix du Rotary International and the Prix Solidarité. Translated by George Miller and published by Bloomsbury in 2010, this was Delphine De Vigan‘s first novel to be translated into English. It has since been translated into 11 languages, made into a film, and is a set text on the A Level French syllabus (England and Wales). Josephine Murray tells us more…

By Josephine Murray

Despite being published 14 years ago, the novel’s themes of identity, parent-child relationships, family secrets, and of finding your way from childhood to adulthood when you have the additional problem of not fitting in are timeless. In fact, in this age of austerity the book’s sensitive portrayal of homelessness and those who live on the margins of society is more pertinent than ever.

I read No and Me in an evening, which proves not only how compelling it is, due to the plot and use of the present tense throughout, (at 246 pages, it’s a succinct read) but also how well this YA novel works as an adult book.

Narrator Lou is 13 and lives in Paris with her parents, who neglect her emotionally because of a tragic event – I won’t spoil the story by revealing what this is – which has affected her mother so badly that she rarely speaks or leaves their flat. Although her father tries to keep things together, the three of them are essentially leading separate, unhappy, but outwardly respectable, lives.

Lou’s life is additionally complicated because she has an IQ of 160, is in a class with students two years older than her, and feels physically and emotionally different to both these 15-year-olds and girls her own age. We learn early on in the book that Lou is attracted to another outsider, a classmate named Lucas, whose don’t-care attitude to school means he’s in a lower year group than he should be.

Lou’s relationships with her parents and with Lucas are turned upside down by the arrival of No, an 18-year-old homeless girl Lou meets at a railway station, befriends and decides to ‘save.’

Using a 13-year-old as the narrator allows De Vigan to ask difficult questions about homelessness and injustice in society. Catching sight of a settlement of makeshift dwellings literally on the margins of ‘civilized’ Paris, Lou does not simply sigh or shrug, as a hardened or cynical adult might. Instead she asks herself what kind of society can send people to the moon but allow people to live on the streets.

The exploration of the chain of events which led No to become homeless teach the young reader, and remind the adult one, that essentially, frighteningly, we could all be only a tragedy, terrible mistake, metal health crisis or broken relationship away from losing everything.

No and Me is not at all bleak, however. It’s funny and warm, and having worked with many teenagers myself, I feel it’s a realistic depiction of awkward conversations, embarrassing situations, and young people’s hopes and dreams.  No and Me portrays caring, compassionate and resourceful teenagers working together to help someone in need. Adults would do well to read it.

No and Me by Delphine de Vigan, translated by George Miller (Bloomsbury, 2010). Original Title: No et Moi, Editions JC Lattes, France, 2007

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Josephine Murray (@MsJHMurray) translates French to English and is studying for an MA in Literary Translation at UEA. She has a BA in English Literature and French, a PGDip and MA in Print Journalism and a PGCE. After working in journalism and PR for ten years she taught French, German and Spanish in schools in Gloucestershire, UK. She is now a writer and journalist and teaches children’s classes in creative writing and journalism. She is Chair of CIOL Gloucestershire Network.

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