As the weather gets cooler (well, it’s not yet, although it should be!), we open up our drawers to reveal stacks of sweatshirts, jeans, and bright fuzzy socks. We toss on our Northfaces, pull on our Uggs, and turn the heat up. We dread waking up for school in winter because it means getting out from under the covers.
Imagine if you had none of that. No heat, no fresh pair of socks, no nothing.
Thirteen-year-old Lou is your everyday girl on the surface. She’s shy, English presentations give her chills, the boy sitting next to her, Lucas, fills her with that warm excitement of love, and she dreams of the day when being popular will seem like second nature. Deep down, however, quirks abound. Analyzing peoples’ emotions at the train station, keeping her things in order, and comparing the labels of frozen food packages are only a few of her hobbies. These quirks come into play when she decides to do her English presentation on the homeless. At the train station that day, a girl who calls herself No (short for Nolwenn) unexpectedly strikes up a conversation with Lou, who realizes that No is homeless. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Lou talks almost every day with this girl to get the information she needs for her English project. Gradually, the girls become friends, and No reveals her day-to-day life – having to constantly move about, the trouble with soup kitchens and emergency shelters, the difficulty finding a place to sleep, and even doing nothing all day. Lou begins to mull over the fact that, despite how incredibly advanced the world is, even with all our fascinating scientific discoveries, we can still let people live and die, freezing on the street. Recognizing her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Lou takes the leap and invites No to live with her. Permanently.
I’m sure you can guess how the rest goes. Everything goes well – No gets a job, Lou’s overly depressed mother starts to come back to life – until something goes wrong. No, having no experience, is struggling with her horrible new job and constantly loses hope. Lou’s father tells No that she has to leave, so Lou sneaks her over to Lucas’s house, and No stays there until she loses her job. Afterwards she does nothing but sleep, drink, and grow more depressed. Eventually she runs away and Lou never sees her again. Feeling abandoned, Lou has to come to grips with the fact that you can’t do everything. You can’t save the world, and it will never be perfect. You can’t force people to go against their nature, and it’s hard to change their habits. Lou did the best she could and that’s all she could have, but she learned a valuable lesson in a unique way. It’s a lesson that could have been pounded into her head, but she had to see for herself to believe it.
A few notes: first of all this book is set in France, and there were a few things that I noticed. For instance, there was mention of an abortion law – apparently if you are past your first trimester you aren’t allowed to get an abortion in France. There were also plenty of mentions to Parisian landmarks that I had never heard of before. It was a great aspect of the book though because it knocked you slightly out of your comfort zone without the usual references to Rockefeller Center and such.
Also, I thought the best part of the book was the characterization and portrayal of emotions: When someone was upset, you could picture exactly what it was like, and it was easy to bond with the characters. I especially loved Lou’s quirks and almost wish I had them. If you like non-shallow characters, definitely take a look at this book. Even if you prefer shallow characters with no emotion or personality (umm….) check out this book, as it is highly enjoyable.
So the next time you find yourself groaning because you have to get out of your deliciously cozy bed, think of No. Step outside your own world and do it for her.
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