Cover Image: Girl of the Southern Sea

Girl of the Southern Sea

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Member Reviews

Michelle Kadarusman is one of my favourite middle grade authors.  Her writing is so timely and beautiful and feature strong female main characters.  Girl of the Southern Sea is an incredibly impactful story of Nia who is growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia without a mother and with a father who is struggling with the loss of his wife.

Nia is a bright creative fourteen year old who not only keeps up her studies even though she can no longer attend school but also cares for her younger brother and helps her father with the family food-cart business.  In Jakarta once you reach high school you need to begin to pay for schooling and the family cannot afford for Nia to continue her studies however she is determined to complete her schooling one way or another.  Living in the slums has its challenges for Nia, worrying about thieves and her father’s absences but her strength carries her family.

Girl of the Southern Sea speaks to anyone with a storyteller’s heart.  Nia tells the most incredible stories about Dewi Kadita to her brother to help assuage his fears and to help her escape from the harsh reality of life as she knows it.  Michelle Kadarusman has given us an incredible gift in this story, inspired by her family trips to her father’s hometown in Indonesia. Nia’s is a story that is not confined to the slums of Jakarta, it’s the story of many young girls throughout the world who don’t have access to a proper education and are forced into the life of an adult before they are barely in their teenage years or younger.  Michelle Kadarusman brings into sharp focus the privilege we experience living in a first world country and opens our children’s eyes to the injustices faced by children in other parts of the world.  Nia’s story is told with love and bravery.  You don’t feel sad for Nia you want to fight along side her, to change her future and to ensure a better life for her and her brother.  Part of the proceeds from this book are being donated to Plan International to ensure that girls throughout the world are given opportunities they would otherwise miss.
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Nia lives in Jakarata with her bapak (dad) and brother Rudi. Her mom died giving birth to Rudi and her father spends a lot of their money on arak instead of school fees. So Nia helps bapak with their fried banana cart and dreams of going to school and becoming a writer one day. She becomes the lucky miracle girl after surviving a bus crash unscathed. Local tailor Oskar becomes her advocate and helps increase the banana business. Nia doesn't realize that Oskar has been promised her hand in marriage by bapak. Nia must learn to stand up for herself and survive without any help. 

I enjoyed this story about the Jakarata slums and Nia's desire for more. I liked Nia's spirit and drive. I do think it is wonderful that all these stories set in different countries are being published for kids to read. I just wish they weren't all so depressing even if they are hopeful.
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This an excellent and powerful fictional account that those inspired by Malala Yousafzai's story will surely love.
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It is another book on the market that brings out the strength of young characters, especially a girl in a society that girls are not traditionally treated as having the same value as boys. The subjects of poverty, grief and substance abuse are front and center in this book as is the value of education. I really enjoyed getting to know the legend of the Queen of the Southern Sea!
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Nia is a compelling character from the Jakarta slums. Her story provides a window for better off readers helping them understand what it means to live in abject poverty. All Nia really wants to do is go back to school, but students in Jakarta have to pay to go to high school. Unfortunately, her irresponsible father drinks their money away, often even the rent funds. Nia has to work in the family's fried banana stand to support her younger brother. She never stops writing and telling stories of the Javanese mythical princess, Dewi Kadita.
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This story begins with Nia living in poverty with her father, who drinks, and her little brother. They are living in a shanty town in Jakarta, Indonesia. Nia is very intelligent, but intelligence does not pay the school fees, so she is forced to drop out of school.

Nia's mother died in childbirth, and her father mourns in his own way, which is drinking all their earnings away.

This story seemed so familiar, a young girl who is denied education, because of poverty. It is a sad state of affairs. 

Good middle school book that could introduce children to how others in the world live.  

The name of the book refers to a legend of Jakarta, and Nia writes down her own versions of the stories.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
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This book appealed to me as it reminded me of Everlasting Nora, a similar sort of story. I enjoyed this story just as well and can't recommend it enough as a book to both older children (think 6th grade up) and teens. I have recommended it to friends. It's a hard scrabble life for Nia who dreams of being a writer, but so many obstacles are in her way- a father who's a drunk, a younger brother, poverty....You find your self rooting for Nia immediatly. I just wanted to see her beat the odds so badly. I love underdog tales-so inspirational.
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I received this from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion.

Nia is a wonderful character living in poverty in Indonesia. Her alcoholic father sells her family's banana fritters at a cart in the local market, but he is unreliable at best, and it is fourteen year old Nia who is left to run the household and care for her younger brother. Her dream is to go to high school so that she can become a famous writer, but it is a goal that doesn't seem to be attainable in her given circumstances. When it is most needed, she finds help from the unlikeliest of friends.
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I was surprised about this book I pictured it to be a semi happy book. This one is full of sadness and loss and heartbreak. It had family, friendship and feel good moments but it was a heavy little book. Not sure if I would recommend it to many since this would be one that could really trigger some readers. I'm glad I read it and it is one that will stay with me.
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For books published within the US, even those featuring people of color generally take place within the country, so it's great to have a chance to read something that takes place somewhere else. Indonesia is drawn quite vividly, and Nia is certainly a heroine to root for, one whose creativity is relatable and whose perseverance is admirable. The plot does skew toward the realistic rather than the idealistic: it tackles alcoholism, child marriage, household responsibilities sometimes foisted prematurely children, lack of educational opportunities, and concerns of poverty in general. Nia's friend Yuli, for example, begins making money by helping to sell drugs and uses her earnings (many times more than Nia's) to buy a phone and jeans rather than to pay for school as Nia would. Even the uplifting (?) ending, wherein Nia will eventually be able to go to high school, comes only as a result of her working as a tutor in the school to earn her way. And things did skew toward the extremely dark, especially for a kid's book, as in the bus accident scene, or the incident where Nia is almost stoned and burned alive by her fellow stall owners in the marketplace.

I think introducing kids to other cultures is necessary, and I don't want to push for things to be sugar-coated; many of the issues Nia faces are similar to those real young people have, and it's important to expose kids to lives unlike their own and to raise awareness in young readers. But I wonder at the blunt manner in which it's done here, especially considering the majority of readers will likely never travel to Indonesia or meet Indonesian people to therefore gain a better rounded view of the country. It comes off here as so significantly negative that it leaves me wondering about whether that was the author's intent.
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Thank you NetGalley and Pajama Press for the advanced copy.  This was a beautiful glimpse into the slums of Jakarta where we meet Nia, who dreams of going to high school.  Unfortunately, her life keeps changing in ways she never expected and now her future is also being decided for her.  She has the choice to just accept her new fate or to fight for her dream of going to high school.  Fortunately, Nia chooses to fight for her future and her family.
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Could you imagine having your life mapped out for you and you have no control over it? Nia's life is spiraling out of control, she is forced to live a life she doesn't want, and decisions are being made for her. At age fourteen, Nia has had to grow up way too fast. Her mother passed away just after giving birth to Nia's little brother. Nia's father has never recovered from her death and he spends most of his time and their money drinking. Nia has had to raise her little brother all by herself in the slums of Jakarta. Nia is extremely smart and wants to become a writer but those dreams seem to be as far away as the ocean is deep. In Jakarta your schooling is free until you reach high school, then you have to pay to go to school, and Nia doesn't have the money for that. Nia and her dad run a fried banana cart and what little money they make goes to rent the shack they live in, meager groceries, and mostly to her father's alcohol.  Nia wants to write her own story but things go from bad to worse when she survives a minibus accident. She is the only one who survives so people now think that she is "magic". She exploits this by doubling the price of her fried bananas, but her "good luck" runs out quickly and she seems to lose everything. Her father leaves her and her brother alone, an angry mob attacks her when her "magic" runs out, and her father has promised her hand in marriage to a man she refuses to marry. Can Nia turn her life around or will she be stuck in the slums forever? Will Nia's father ever come back to help her or will she be forced to marry a man just because her father promised? Will Nia ever be able to attend high school and become a writer telling all of the stories her mother used to tell her about the Queen of the Southern Sea? Read this incredible story to find out the answers to these questions and so much more!!

This story is so full of sadness, loss, bitterness, and heartbreak but it is also so full of love, friendship,  hope and determination! Nia is an inspiration to me because she has been dealt such a bad hand in life but she is intent on making a better life for herself. I am so naive when it comes to how people live outside of my little bubble in this world and it breaks my heart to know that people truly live like this. It also saddens me to know that there are girls today who do not have a choice about what they do or who they marry. This is why I commend Michelle Kadarusman for donating a portion of the book's proceeds to Plan International Canada's #BecauseIAmaGirl campaign. This is a book that needs to be in every library and every classroom around the world! Let's make a change!!!
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