Author: 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.