Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: No and Me

No and MeAuthor: Delphine de Vigan
Published: August 3rd 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Hardcover, 256 pages
Buy: The Book Depository

This summer, I met a young girl from Croatia’s most war-affected city. She came here, on the other side of the country, to live in a trailer and work in a supermarket for very little money. It was just a lousy summer job, but to her, it was more than good enough. When at home, she lives with her father, barely scraping by, both of them unemployed throughout the year because there are no jobs where she comes from. She told me about growing up hungry and going to school with her stomach completely empty. She told me how her mother refused meals to leave more for her, because she was still growing and she needed energy for her schoolwork. She told me how her parents took turns eating because there wasn’t enough for both. And she said it all with a big smile on her face, the smile of a person who refuses to be defeated.

I kept a brave face, but then I drove home and I cried for hours. I hugged my sleeping child and I swore that she’ll never experience anything similar. (I bet the girl’s parents made the same promise at some point, though, all parents do – and it scares me to death). But when I started thinking about things that could have been done to feed this girl when she needed it the most, things that SHOULD have been done, I felt deeply ashamed, even though back then, I was no more than a teen myself.

There’s really no point to this story, except that I felt it needed to be told. No and Me isn’t one of those books that try to convince you you’re equipped to save the world – you really aren’t, and neither am I. We do the best we can, most of us, and we live knowing it’s not nearly enough. And it’s because of that knowledge that we turn our heads the other way and try to protect ourselves from things we cannot change.

This is exactly why I don’t like reading contemporary YA. Things like bullying, abuse, even smaller family issues, make me feel hurt and powerless, and it’s something I tend to avoid at all costs. But No and Me is not one of those books. There’s something so very gentle about it because it doesn’t try to shock or hurt, nor does it try to change the reader in any way. It just is – it is a story, simple and beautiful, easy to read and even easier to accept, even while it’s breaking your heart.

In No and Me, a thirteen-year-old child genius Lou Bertignac interviews an eighteen-year-old homeless girl for a school project and subsequently decides to save her. She brings her into her home to live with her damaged family and treats her like a sister she’d lost when she was just a child. Lou Bertignac is an extraordinary character: understanding how her mind works (she has an IQ of 160) and how it reflects on her emotions was a challenge and a true delight. And of course she and I have a huge thing in common:

People who think that grammar is just a collection of rules and restrictions are wrong. If you get to like it, grammar reveals the hidden meaning of history, hides disorder and abandonment, links things and brings opposites together. Grammar is a wonderful way of organizing the world how you’d like it to be.

*sigh* I wholeheartedly agree.

This is the longest non-review I’ve written in my life, so I need to offer you an alternative. My friend Catie over at The Readventurer reads all these books I’m too much of a coward to pick up, and then she writes amazing reviews that are equal parts rational and emotional. She is my favorite reviewer in the world (and I’m not just saying that), and she’s the one who convinced me to read this book, so please check out her review if you can.


  1. Oh Maja - such a beautiful review. You were absolutely right about first drafts. This "non-review" is completely perfect. I knew you'd relate to Lou. :) I'm so glad I got to read this before we lose power for the next week. :-\

    And guess what? I got sick right after I hugged you the other day. Apparently I need to be more wary of psychically transmitted disease.

  2. I know lots of people have issues with YA contemps but while I do agree that they might be depressing or make us feel helpless, I do think we need an outlet to talk about it. I think it really does help teens to know that other people have similar issues such as the ones that they read and as a result, don't feel so alone.

  3. Oh that review was fantastic, Maja...
    I don't prefer contemporary for that exact reason but some of them are too good to pass up. I had read Catie's review of this and was intrigued but I'm definitely convinced after your review now. :)

  4. YOU'RE READING FIRE, YOU'RE READING FIRE, YES, YES, YES, YOU'RE READING FIRE! *calms down* Sorry, I got distracted by the gorgeous of it on the side and then totally forgot about the deep, meaningful, and well-written comment I was just going to post.

    Maja, I love this review. Catie's review put this on my radar and made me add it to my TBR, but your review has convinced me without doubt that I need to read it - now! I'm so familiar with poverty because it's so prevalent in India, so I understand your sentiments perfectly and I really want to pick this up now, especially because it isn't a pure "issue" book. I hesitate to read those, even though I eventually get around to them, but I won't think twice about picking this one up. Beautiful, beautiful review dear. Seriously, HOW do you write like this? ;)

  5. I know how you feel,, Maja.. I aavoid contemporariess because I read to ccape and bookss that maake me faace difficult issues are hard. II appreciaated yoour non rreview and it spokke voluumes to me. Thhanks for the rrecommendation. Sorry about the typpos bblogger is givingg me fits

  6. Maja, your intro story made me teary, I wish no child had to go through what she had to :(

    Catie's review put this on my radar and you've just confirmed I need to read it - thanks for writing this wonderful post

  7. That's awful about the woman you met. I am always in such amazement at people who go through so much and still manage to be cheerful people or at the least, not let it weigh them down unbearably. I'm glad Catie talked you into this with her review, even if it wasn't your favorite reading experience.

  8. Hehehe! Non-review, uh? But I must say that I understand you. This kind of books are difficult. Sometimes because they are too harsh, sometimes because they frivolize what should be deeper, harder. But I think I understand how you felt with this one, a little bit :)

    Thanks for sharing this post. I bet it was hard to get into those memories, but it was super inspiring. :)

  9. Maja... Wow. Oh WOW. Ok, 'non'-review or not, I don't think you could have done a better job at convincing me to read this book. I don't even know where to start, but thank you for sharing that story, because it is amazing, and powerful, and heartbreaking and... Wow.

    I know what you mean about not reading contemp because of how powerless it makes you feel. The ones I like best are the ones that tear you down like that, bu then re-build you, stronger, and empower you and teach you, instead ;)

  10. Oh Maja, I love this review. You know, those reasons you mentioned about staying away from contemporary books are sometimes why I find myself shying away from them. I read to escape from real life problems, not to throw myself back into them. This sounds like a book worth reading though. Thank you for sharing!

  11. I'm trying to see how to post this comment through tears after reading your beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your story, for your thoughts on this book, and for being you. I heart you! This is one contemporary I will have to try. <3

  12. I haven't read too many YA contemporary., since i cannot always relate..but this sounds different. Lovely review and I added your button to my blogroll *finally*

  13. This is such a beautiful book. It made me wish I could read French, so I could read the original. I totally agree with you that this book is a gentle, non-pushy approach to the issues addressed. But is still manages to be so powerful. Beautiful (non)review.

  14. This is such a gorgeous review Maja, I'm in awe of your reviews all the time, but this one totally blew me away! I really like the way you went about reviewing it, I know you described it as a non-review, but it seems to capture your feelings about this book perfectly. You've definitely piqued my interest in giving this book a try! :)

  15. Maja, thank you for such a beautiful, heartfelt review. It doesn't matter that this is a 'non-review', I love hearing about bloggers' own experiences and it just highlights how much of an impact it made on you. No and Me sounds like such a beautiful novel, I like that you've said its 'gentle' but still equally heartbreaking. And I want to meet Lou - the child genius! I will definitely be looking out for this one as I adore contemporaries and well... how can I overlook it now I've read your amazingly gorgeous review?

  16. "Things like bullying, abuse, even smaller family issues, make me feel hurt and powerless, and it’s something I tend to avoid at all costs. " Yes, this is why issue books are sometimes difficult for me to read through, because it's hard when you have a soft heart and feel helpless. Still, it's beautiful, the connection you made with the book.

  17. I wonder eventually happened to the girl you met. The world is filled with so much injustice it's overwhelming.

    This sounds like an amazing and emotional read. Lovely review Maja. :)

  18. What a beautiful review Maja - I've heard so much about this book and I can't wait to devour a copy.
    I agree with you about issue-orientated books being difficult to handle, but when they are so beautifully written, it's definitely worth picking them up.

  19. I really, really, really enjoyed this book. Both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time I felt that story's main theme expresses that people who step up to the plate, no matter what their age, CAN make a difference in someones life. Even if its something small we can still make a change....a tiny ripple in the pond so to speak. Well written and character driven, this is a story that will resonate with readers of all ages. Recommended!

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