A Wikipedia contributor sums up the novel in one sentence: "It is the story of an Arab girl whose life is full of adventures. A brothel in Morocco, a Spanish slum, Parisian Bohemian life, and at last a trip to America, where she fulfills her dream of becoming a jazz singer." That last part- about her having a dream, is not true really. And a relevant part of the story is that the girl is really more African than Arab. I guess I should correct Wikipedia?
Overall the book was disappointing. It is a novel intended I think for the teen reader from developing countries: the style is very straightforward, it is a "real" picaresque tale in that the narrator just keeps moving from place and situation to another, and things are always happening to her by chance... but it is real (=grim) in that the good things are all small good things (she finds a sympathetic friend; she learns she can sing and loves music) while the bad things are pretty bad (she fritters away her chance to be successful at music because she does not... what exactly?; she gets raped; she is abducted as a child...). It is all really sad, but really true.
Unfortunately for an adult reader like me, I could not invest emotionally in her life story... Le Clézio (deliberately?) makes her not very deep in her reflections about her situation (she makes the same mistakes, she doesn't reflect that she is making mistakes, she has no penetrating insight into the character of her friends). I suppose at some level is it exactly what he set out to do- an account of an ordinary life that is extraordinary for his reader, because his typical reader is so privileged that the poverty and desperation the characters are in seems extraordinary. But of course the situations described are very common and ordinary.
So what to make of the whole thing? I honestly don't know my overall assessment... none of the real lyricism of other Le Clézio novels, nor of my current crop of favorites (Beppe Fenoglio and Alan Garner) and none of the hard-driving devilish clever sci-fi storytelling of my other current favorites (China Miéville, Vernor Vinge, Ted Chiang).
It's like a food that is good for me... but the chewing and the swallowing leaves no taste or aftertaste. I did enjoy reading the French though, because in truth the level is exactly my level. I mean, it was wonderful to be immersed completely and not once come across a realization of my limitations as a French reader.