‘”Miss Bertignac, I don’t see your name on the list of presentations”
Mr Martin is looking at me from a distance with one eyebrow raised, his hands on his desk. I’d reckoned without his long range radar.’
Lou Bertignac has an IQ of 160 and a good friend in class rebel Lucas. At home her father puts a brave face on things but cries in secret in the bathroom, while her mother rarely speaks and hardly ever leaves the house. To escape this desolate world, Lou goes often to Gare d’Austerlitz to see the big emotions in the smiles and tears of arrival and departure. But there she also sees the homeless, meets a girl called No, only a few years older than herself, and decides to make homelessness the topic of her class presentation. Bit by bit, Lou and No become friends until, the project over, No disappears. Heartbroken, Lou asks her parents the unaskable question and her parents say: Yes, No can come to live with them. So Lou goes down into the underworld of Paris’s street people to bring her friend up to the light of a home and family life, she thinks.
What I thought
Lou is a really idealistic character. It feels like like her view of the world hasn’t caught up with her smarts. Which can be the way with child genius’, she’s got the smarts of someone 3 or 4 years older than her but the without the experience of the world that you get with age. She’s still at the black/white view of the world that a child has, and yet no one can claim that she doesn’t try. Lou seems a problem in the world and although she knows she can’t fix the entire problem she’s determined to help at least one person. And with that childlike determination she does what she can to right a wrong. She sees No on the street, a girl only a few years older than herself and whats to learn more about how that happened and convinces her family to bring No into their own home and keep her off the street.
For what starts off as a simple school project No and Lou continue to get closer until Lou can’t bear the thought of No living without a roof over her head, after convincing her parents that No should live with them she then has to convince No that it’s ok for her to move in with them, and have another chance at life.
And No really tries as well, she is persuaded by Lou’s ideology and convinces herself that good things can happen and it is possible for people to offer something for nothing. She comes from a world where there is always a catch, even with here family before she was on the streets from a young age she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. She does everything she can to try to accept her new life and work out where she fits in the world, even after getting a job and trying to put life on the streets behind her it can’t help but keep pulling back at her. But No doesn’t want to let Lou down, Lou truly thinks that all that is needed is putting a roof over No’s head, but there is so much more to it then that. Things that No can’t truly put into words, as much as she tries to explain while Lou is interviewing her for her school project, talking in more depth would take away Lou’s naivety, and doing so would break No.
It’s impossible to talk about this book without mentioning that it is a translation from French. Due to this translation it felt a bit clunky at times, French is such a lyrical language and that is lost in the translation, like it said there were moments where it felt clunky and with a character called No… it definitely didn’t make it easy to read where I had to constantly remind myself that when they said ‘No’ they were talking about a person and not saying ‘no’. This is purely a symptom of the translation and it I got used to it, it just took a couple of pages every time I picked it up again to remind myself.
I do wish that my French was good enough to read the original text.
Why I read it
I picked this up at random in a library haul, one of the ones where you only go in to get 1 thing and end up leaving with 5.
I knew absolutely nothing going in but I needed a translation book for one of the challenges and sometimes pulling books at random off the shelves is the best way to find new favourites.
paradoxically I think I liked the book but I’m not sure how much I enjoyed reading it. The simple act of reading took more effort than normal due to the translation, (plus the No/no thing). But this interaction of No and Lou was brilliant, they both learnt from the other one how to be more idealistic/hopefully and how to be more realistic about the world but to still help others.
Would I recommend? If you can read French I’d suggest you read the original, but although this might not be for everyone it’s one I would suggest people give a go.
PopSugar: Borrowed/Given as a gift.
Read Harder: Translated genre fiction (YA)
I’m aware I’ve been away for a while, my life and fatigue just got in the way to the point that I was in bed by 9pm most nights for the past couple of weeks. But I think I’ve got that under control right now (managing to stay up to the heady heights of 10pm!). I’m determined to get this blog back on track.
Please leave a comment, it really means the world and makes me smile. I love writing this and it would be great to see what you think.