I picked this book up the same day as I Love You Too Much. The “books about Paris” section at Shakespeare and Company got me, because they somehow know that I love reading books that are set in Paris. Especially if they are written by someone who has actually lived in the city. No and Me, by Delphine de Vigan, is one such book, and the essence of Paris permeates through every page. I can see the cafes the characters frequent and I can picture the people they encounter, because they are all so achingly real. Unfortunately.
I say unfortunately, because No and Me is not a happy book. It tells the story of Lou, a 13 year old girl who lives in Paris with her parents. Her mother has clinical depression and won’t leave their apartment, Lou is neurodivergent and struggles to understand the world, and her father is just trying to keep the family together. When Lou meets No, a homeless girl a couple of years older than her, she decides to try and help her new friend get back on her feet. It is a noble act that creates a complicated web of consequences for them both.
I said above that this is not a happy book, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. In fact, I devoured it in just two days. I’ve also been able to think of little else since. The story touches on so many fraught and heavy topics, but does so through the lens of Lou’s optimism and nativity. As a result, it is almost painful to bear witness to the inevitable disillusionment that comes when a child starts to transition into adulthood. When they begin to realize that there are no easy answers in life, nor are there easy fixes. That things are complicated, even when they should be simple.
As I said, I haven’t been able to get this book out of my head since I finished it, and a lot of that has to do with how accurate it is in its depiction of Paris. No and Me has a lot of very profound things to say about what it means to be homeless. For every day to be a struggle just to survive. And what it says about us as a people that we just allow this to happen. I encounter homeless people every day in Paris, but I feel like I really see them more after reading this book. And just like Lou, I wish there was an easy answer to fix the problem. But there isn’t, so I do what I can, wherever I can.
All in all, No and Me is a hauntingly beautiful book, but it isn’t an easy read. It’s about trauma and socioeconomic structures and what it really takes to survive in this world. But at its core, it’s about two young girls who are trying to make their way in life, even when taking the next step seems impossible. They don’t always succeed, but I was rooting for them, right up until the very last page.
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!