No and me by Delphine de Vigan
Translated from the French by George Miller, Bloomsbury, 2010.ISBN
(Ages 12+) Recommended. Promoted into higher grade because of her high intelligence and abilities, Lou has one firm friend in her class, the older and much wiser Lucas, whose wit and knowhow steers her away from any trouble. But she is quiet and mouselike, sitting at the back, afraid to participate less she look foolish to the older students. On her way home one night she notices a homeless girl begging in the subway, and intrigued talks to her and becomes more involved in her life. Asked by her teacher to nominate a topic that she will investigate for her class she agrees to look more closely at homeless people and so takes steps to interview the girl she knows as No.
When she finds that No has been forced out of any accommodation, she asks her parents if she can live with them, and surprisingly they agree. So begins a melding of the two groups, the reticent No, and the even odder trio that makes up Lou's family. Lou's parents lost a child and this has had an incredible impact upon all their lives. Mother has become a recluse, rarely acknowledging the other two, while Lou's father can sometimes be heard crying in the room which was her sister's room. Slowly the foursome becomes more of a family, Lou's parents become more responsive, Lou comes from behind the mouse like veneer she has built for herself, and No goes out to work. Each person changes, develops, grows as a result of No's entering the family. But No always warns Lou that this cannot last, and unsurprisingly No returns to the world she has left, drinking and taking drugs. She is asked to leave the apartment but one day she turns up at Lucas's home and so stays there instead. The future for all the protagonists is profoundly changed by No's being part of their lives, but in the end she cannot survive the change herself and the open ended completion to the novel opens the way for many classroom discussions.