Akin to No One belongs to an appealing genre known as Bildungsroman, a work of literature concerned with a young person’s passage from childhood to maturity through education and emotional development.
This moving novel traces the life of Grace Saint-Jean from the time she learns to negotiate the busy thoroughfares of Port-au-Prince and “wasn’t sure what school was exactly”—to the time she earns a doctorate from the Sorbonne and walks down the Champs Elysees with confidence—to the time she returns to Haiti imbued with a determination to help its poorest children get an education so they can have a brighter future.
Grace’s own early experiences at school were not always pleasant, but as her education progresses, she realizes that she “loved books” and “wanted to be a scholar.” Grace gradually finds her identity as a student who wants to provide others with the same chance to learn. Grace’s desire to gain and transmit knowledge becomes an emotional investment, and she focuses on a personal long-range objective: to establish schools for the impoverished children of the countryside and the poor urban areas across Haiti.
Grace’s instruction doesn’t only come from books. Because she finds herself in a world of opposing forces—those which nurture her strengths and those which aim to repress them—Grace must also educate herself emotionally and socially. Grace is helped by her parents, Therese and Mondestin, who make sacrifices so that she can go to school. Later, Germaine and Justin Bonhomme become surrogate parents who continue to encourage her. Along the way, Grace is also fortunate to encounter Carmelle-Marie and Jean-Michel, two highly motivated individuals who share her ideals. But Marc, the Bonhommes’ adopted son and Grace’s nemesis, becomes an agent of a regime that intends to strip her of the identity she has struggled to achieve and to compel her to conform or die.
At one point in the novel, Pierre Lemoine, Grace’s uncle, says, “This is such a beautiful island that we live on!” What isn’t stated, but understood, is that the splendor of the island is overshadowed by a series of repressive situations that are not conducive to the education and well-being of the general public, but promote the maintenance of the status quo.
In the end, Grace must accept the fact that, until things change, the freedom to pursue her plans can only be found elsewhere.
See Kirkus Reviews for a review of this book.