Girl of the Southern Sea cover

By Michelle Kadarusman

Girl of the Southern Sea

From Governor General’s Literary Award finalist Michelle Kadarusman, an empowering novel about a girl from the slums of Jakarta who dreams of an education and the chance at a better life

From the time she was a little girl, Nia has dreamed up adventures about the Javanese mythical princess, Dewi Kadita. Now fourteen, Nia would love nothing more than to continue her education and become a writer. But high school costs too much. Her father sells banana fritters at the train station, but too much of his earnings go toward his drinking habit. Too often Nia is left alone to take over the food cart as well as care for her brother and their home in the Jakarta slums.

But Nia is determined to find a way to earn her school fees. After she survives a minibus accident unharmed and the locals say she is blessed with ‘good luck magic,’ Nia exploits the notion for all its worth by charging double for her fried bananas. Selling superstitions can be dangerous, and when the tide turns it becomes clear that Nia’s future is being mapped without her consent.

If Nia is to write a new story for herself, she must overcome more obstacles than she could ever have conceived of for her mythical princess, and summon courage she isn’t sure she has.

A portion of the proceeds from this #ownvoices story are in support of Plan International Canada Because I Am A Girl

Available In


Ages 9-12
ISBN: 978-1-77278-081-9
List Price: $19.95 CAD / $17.95 USD
Hardback with reinforced binding & with printed dust jacket
Trim Size: 5.50 x 8.00 inches / 13.97 x 20.32cm
Pages: 224

Distributed in Canada by University of Toronto Press

Distributed in the U.S. by Ingram Publisher Services

Carton Quantity: 40

Paperback / softback

Ages 9-12
ISBN: 978-1-77278-236-3
List Price: $15.95 CAD / $12.95 USD
Paperback / softback
Trim Size: 5.50 x 8.00 inches / 13.97 x 20.32cm
Pages: 224

Publication date: February 15, 2022

Distributed in Canada by University of Toronto Press

Distributed in the U.S. by Ingram Publisher Services

Carton Quantity: 60

About this book

Awards and Honours

  • 2019 Governor General's Literary Award: Young People's Literature – Text (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2019 Northern Lights Book Award: Pre-Teen Cultural (Winner) (United States)
  • 2019 NCTA Freeman Book Award Honorable Mention (Runner-up) (United States)
  • 2019 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children's Literature (Runner-up) (United States)
  • 2020 USBBY Outstanding International Books List selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2022 Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Award (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2023 Indiana Young Hoosier Award Consideration List (Nominated) (United States)
  • 2020 Bank Street Best Book (Commended) (United States)
  • 2020 Rise: A Feminist Book Project List selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2019 CCBC Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection (Commended) (Canada)
  • 2019 Junior Library Guild selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2020 SYRCA Diamond Willow Award (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2021 MYRCA Sundogs Award (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2019 Resource Links "Recent Canadian Titles too Good to Miss" (Commended) (Canada)
  • 2021 Forest of Reading Kid Committee Silver Birch Recommended Reading List (Commended) (Canada)
  • 2021 Red Cedar Book Awards (Nominated) (Canada)


Praise for Girl of the Southern Sea

2019 Governor General’s Literary Award: Young People’s Literature – Text Finalist

2019 NCTA Freeman Book Award Honorable Mention

2019 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature Honor Book

2019 Northern Lights Book Award: Pre-Teen Cultural Winner

2022 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award shortlist

2023 Indiana Young Hoosier Award Nominee

2020 SYRCA Diamond Willow Award Finalist

2020 MYRCA Sundogs Award Nominee

2020 USBBY Outstanding International Books List selection

2020 Bank Street Best Book selection

2021 Red Cedar Book Award Nominee

2020 Rise: A Feminist Book Project List selection

2019 CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens Starred Selection

2019 Resource Links “Recent Canadian Titles too Good to Miss” selection

2019 Junior Library Guild selection

“In spare and elegant prose, Kadarusman weaves a quiet tale of survival, grit, and integrity….Peppered throughout are stories that Nia crafts, based on Indonesian legends about the princess of the Southern Sea. With nuanced characters, this is a lovely gem for fans of irrepressible girls and contemporary stories set outside of the U.S.”—Booklist

“A gripping, emotional realistic novel describing the grim realities of growing up in Indonesian poverty….VERDICT A riveting read featuring a determined and talented teenager.”—School Library Journal

“Readers will cheer Nia’s real powers—her storytelling talent and her resiliency—in this vividly set story.”—The Horn Book Guide

“Punctuating Nia’s thoughtful, present-tense narration with her stories about Dewi [Kadita], Kadarusman effectively weaves a gentle tale of love and loss and illuminates the power of storytelling. A thought-provoking peek into a culture deserving of more attention in North America.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A stark setting combines with striking characters…The novel does not offer simple solutions but instead wraps up Nia’s story in a way that demonstrates her willingness and ability to stand up for herself. Girl of the Southern Sea is an uplifting novel about hope and the power of storytelling.”—Foreword Reviews

“Rating: E…[Kadarusman’s] insight into life in Indonesia, supplemented by her shared heritage has made this fictional story of poverty, tradition and self-determination entirely accessible and – more importantly – believable. There is a pragmatism here that transcends all the possible and imagined divisions in this story which gives it an appeal as broad as the ocean it describes.”—Resource Links

“In Girl of the Southern Sea, Michelle Kadarusman delves gracefully into weighty subjects like poverty, slum living, and forced marriages, as well as limited access to education, healthcare and opportunities for the future, especially for girls. Upbeat, optimistic Nia is a very relatable protagonist, even for those who can’t fathom her day-to-day existence.”—Shelf Awareness

Girl of the Southern Sea is an enjoyable, brisk, and emotionally charged novel that tells difficult stories inspired by the realities of girls in Indonesia. It is a sharp and politically attuned work that will give readers further appreciation for the value of access to education, health care, and justice.”—Quill & Quire

“A deftly crafted and inherently entertaining read from cover to cover, Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman is unreservedly recommended for both school and community library Contemporary General Fiction collections for young readers ages 9-12.”—Midwest Book Review

“Nia is a wonderful character – resilient, courageous and independent….Kadarusman gives her readers a young rebel as the protagonist of this novel….Young adult readers in the junior grades will find Girl of the Southern Sea an entertaining and interesting novel. A glossary of Indonesian terms and a map will help with comprehension. The novel would be an excellent starting point from which to study Indonesian culture as well as the effects of poverty on young women in Indonesia and elsewhere in the world….Highly Recommended.”—CM Magazine

“Rating: 5…This is [a] realistically told sad story as the reader witnesses tragedy after tragedy befall Nia.”—Youth Services Book Review

“In this moving, ultimately hopeful tale, Michelle Kadarusman presents young readers with a window into a very different world….Nia’s refusal to give up and her determination to write a better future for herself will stay with readers long after the book is finished.”—Canadian Children’s Book News

“Kadarusman explores the plight of vulnerable young women in developing countries. Nia is resourceful and determined, a good role model for middle-school readers who can watch as she takes charge of her own future.”—Winnipeg Free Press

“I cannot convey the depth of the storytelling within Girl of the Southern Sea and it’s message for girls to make their own opportunities….It’s origins may be saturated in misfortune and tragedy but it will become the story she wants to write for herself and make her the Girl of the Southern Sea.”—CanLit for LittleCanadians

“Nia is the type of character that won’t soon leave my heart. She left her mark as many characters do after opening up a world that I knew next to nothing about. I don’t know that I’ve read anything set in Indonesia and yet Michelle’s writing transported me there immediately…. This book would pair beautifully with Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz and The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman for a series of titles about children living in poverty around the world. Nia’s strength in spite of her past will not soon leave my heart and mind.”—Literacious

“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…This is a book that needs to be in every library and every classroom around the world!”—Blazer Tales

“Rating: [5 stars]…This was a fantastic story! It was exciting and suspenseful….I highly recommend it for middle grade readers!”—Jill Jemmett

“Nia’s fight to improve her life is admirable. This is an #ownvoices book, but since the author doesn’t currently live in Indonesia, she had a sensitivity writer.”—Mrs. Yingling Reads

“I liked [Nia’s] strong character, and her unwavering ambition. This book opens children’s eyes to another culture, the more difficult choices and situations faced by children in other countries, and an interesting legend.”—Canadian Bookworm

“We rated this book 5/5…If you are a person who enjoys books with content that makes you feel for the character and not want to put the book down, then you should definitely read this book….It is juicy and full of color, character, and exquisite content.”—Savvy, Age 11, Kids’ BookBuzz

“I love having a larger selection of books to show our students the lives of children in disparate parts of the world….[it] can help them build a larger world view.”—Kiss the Book Jr.

“Nia is a wonderful character forced to grow up faster than she should with a father who is unable – or unwilling – to pull himself together for the sake of his family. There are lot of Indonesian stories woven into the book, courtesy of Nia herself, and we get to learn a fair bit about this place she calls home….Nia shows readers what happens when you are brave enough to follow your dreams.”—Booktime

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Teaching Guide

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