Faïza Guène’s Just Like Tomorrow follows the daily life of Doria, a fifteen-year-old girl of Moroccan heritage living with her single mother in the banlieue of Livry-Gargan on the outskirts of Paris. Through Doria’s cynical, often hard-boiled gaze, Guène paints an utterly un-romanticized portrait of modern-day Paris and its surrounding suburbs that presents a stark contrast to the idyllic Paris of “those black and white films from the sixties… the ones where the buff actor’s always telling his woman so much lies, with a cigarette dangling from his lips…” (13). This is not the Paris of languid lunches in sidewalk cafés or aimless promenades through the Luxembourg gardens. Guène’s is an immigrant’s Paris, occupied by high-rise housing projects and seedy minimarts. Doria observes her surroundings with a perspicacious (albeit often incredulous, dissatisfied and critical) eye, presenting to us her genuine viewpoint on a city idealized by so many.
Much like Simmel’s city-dweller, who adopts a blasé attitude as a defense mechanism against the overstimulation of the senses that city life inevitably instigates, Guène’s Doria is perennially pessimistic, utterly disillusioned by the world around her, which she perceives as an endless cycle of kif-kif, or “same old, same old.” In Paris, she is often limited by her race and gender, “trapped” in a low socioeconomic echelon—and this fosters her constant judgment and criticism of the city and its inhabitants. Doria insists repeatedly on the negative aspects of her life, “Fate stinks. It’s a pile of shit because you’ve got no control over it. Basically, whatever you do you’ll always get screwed” (1). She refuses to allow herself to feel the emotion of hope, as she has learned that expecting the worst leaves little room for disappointment. Her toughened attitude stems from that which she has been surrounded by—namely, poverty, discrimination and intense inequality.
At certain points in the novel, Doria exhibits a tendency towards a certain breed of flânerie. Early on, she writes, “I was bored, so I took the Metro. I didn’t know where to go, but it’s a way of passing the time. I like seeing so many different faces. I did all of Line 5, from end to end” (21). On the metro, she muses whimsically over a gypsy man playing the accordion on the train, fantasizing about his life in Romania and even following him between compartments. This sense of wonder cannot last, though—“Real life” and its implications seep quickly back into Doria’s ever-racing mind. Though Doria does not possess anywhere near the same level of economic freedom that Hemingway describes having in The Sun Also Rises, or even the personal freedom of Jean Rhys in Good Morning, Midnight, she is able to traverse the city in her own way—albeit on buses and subway cars rather than in cafés, art galleries and taxis, in “neuf-trois” rather than St. Germain des Près or Trocadéro—ruminating over what she observes and, as in the case of the gypsy accordion-player, often distracting herself for a moment from her own disenchantment with the city. She is fiercely independent and self-sufficient; shopping for groceries, cooking for her mother, even taking the rent money to the landlady’s, yet she holds a distinct contempt for many of those around her, specifically those who have more than she does. Simmel writes, “Indeed, if I am not mistaken, the inner side of this external reserve is not only indifference but more frequently than we believe, it is a slight aversion, a mutual strangeness and repulsion which, in a close contact which has arisen any way whatever, can break out into hatred and conflict.” (Simmel, 331). This “conflict” appears throughout Just Like Tomorrow, as Doria, in the style of a modern Holden Caulfield, harshly criticizes nearly everyone she encounters. Like Simmel’s city-dweller, she has been shaped and hardened by her surroundings—by the urban landscape of the Paris banlieue and its diverse inhabitants. As the novel progresses and she lets “neeky Nabil,” Lila and Sarah into her life, accepting the misgivings and faults of Hamoudi and even Mrs. Burlaud, she learns slowly to accept the possibility of openness, upward mobility (both emotionally and financially) and even hope.