I got an ARC of this YA novel, originally published in French, several months ago, but I’m just now getting around to reading it. The atmosphere and feel of the story was very European, very French. It’s a story about a thirteen year old, intellectually gifted girl named Lou Bertignac and her friendship with a homeless eighteen year old girl, No. (I must admit that I originally pictured No as Vietnamese or at least Asian because the name sounded Southeast Asian to me, but No is later described as dark-haired and pale-skinned, typical French. No is short for Nolwenn.)
The gist of the story is that Lou tries to “save” No, to give her a home, help her to become self-supporting, be her friend, improve her life. The plot reminded me of a book I plan to read that was being touted in Eldest Daughter’s church when I visited her in Nashville, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. I haven’t read this nonfiction title yet, but I am well aware that helping people who are homeless or mired in poverty isn’t a straightforward or uncomplicated matter simply of finding them a job and a place to live. In No and Me, Lou finds out that helping No isn’t easy, and although Lou never gives up hope and tries to walk alongside No even when No herself is choosing to engage in self-destructive behavior, the story is realistic in showing that persistence and dedication may not always be enough.
No and Me was the Winner of the 2008 Prix de Libraries (Booksellers’ Prize) in France, and the translation is, as far as I can tell, well done. The ending of the novel was somewhat ambiguous, in keeping with the tone of the entire book. Teens who are interested in helping the homeless or who want insight into European culture and issues would appreciate this look at homelessness in France and one girl’s attempt to do her part to make a difference.