Girl of the Southern Sea Reviews


Book Cover: Girl of the Southern Sea Author: Michelle Kadarusman Publisher: Pajama Press

“In this contemporary tale set in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, a talented girl resolves to become a writer in spite of poverty, her father’s alcoholism, and grief over her mother’s death….In spare and elegant prose, Kadarusman weaves a quiet tale of survival, grit, and integrity. As Nia struggles to decide between right and wrong, she also takes care of her sibling, confronts the male figures in her life, and builds supportive relationships with female characters. 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.”
— Shelley M. Diaz

Read the full review in the April 2019 issue of Booklist

School Library Journal

“A gripping, emotional realistic novel describing the grim realities of growing up in Indonesian poverty. A glossary of Indonesian words is included at the front of the book and a map provides the location of the story’s setting. The author’s note explains how the seeds of this story were planted long ago when Kadarusman observed poverty while traveling with her family to her father’s hometown in West Java. VERDICT A riveting read featuring a determined and talented teenager.”
—Helen Foster James, University of California at San Diego

Read the full review in the April 2019 issue of School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

“Punctuating Nia’s thoughtful, present-tense narration with her stories about Dewi, 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.”

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Foreword Reviews

“A stark setting combines with striking characters as they struggle to survive, often engaging in dangerous or unethical activities to earn enough money to live. The choices that the characters make are reflections upon questions of right and wrong in an environment where basic needs are never guaranteed to be met. Nia’s life may not seem like it is in her own hands, but she proves to be a strong young woman, even if the challenges she faces are overwhelming. 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.”
—Catherine Thureson

Read the full review in the May/June 2019 issue of Foreword Reviews

Resource Links

“Rating: E…Author Michelle Kadarusman is Australian/Indonesian/Canadian and her 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.”
—Lesley Little

Read the full review on page 11-12 of the April 2019 issue of Resource Links Magazine

Shelf Awareness

“In Girl of the Southern Sea, Michelle Kadarusman (The Theory of Hummingbirds) 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.
—Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

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Quill & Quire

“Toronto-based, Australian-Indonesian-Canadian author Michelle Kadarusman (The Theory of Hummingbirds) sets her moving and dramatic sophomore novel in the impoverished villages of Jakarta….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.”
—Nikki Luscombe

Read the full review on page 31 of the June 2019 issue of Quill & Quire

CM Magazine

“Nia is a wonderful character – resilient, courageous and independent. She is self-motivated and determined to one day complete her education and become a writer….

There are important themes in the novel as the author looks at the role poverty plays in the life of a young girl. The rights of girls and women are also an important aspect of the story. As well, the importance of a good education is central to the book. Nia’s big dream is to attend high school when she can afford it. This will come as a surprise to most young Canadians who take for granted a high school education.

The setting of Jakarta is almost another character in the novel. Readers are immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the city slums. Readers also begin to understand some of the culture as they watch Nia’s daily activities at home and in the city around her….

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. In fact, the author will be donating a portion of her royalties to Plan International’s Because I Am A Girl campaign, and Pajama Press will match her donation.

Highly Recommended.”
—Ann Ketcheson, a retired secondary school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

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Youth Services Book Review

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

What did you like about the book?…This is [a] realistically told sad story as the reader witnesses tragedy after tragedy befall Nia. What can she do to survive, to turn her life around, to be brave and courageous?

Anything you did not like about the book. No.

To whom would you recommend this book? This might be a nice teacher readaloud for middle and high school students showing them just how different things can be for teenagers in other countries.”
Katrina Yurenka, Manager, Youth Services Book Review

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Canadian Children’s Book News

“In this moving, ultimately hopeful tale, Michelle Kadarusman presents young readers with a window into a very different world. Jakarta’s slums, rife with crushing poverty, can be a dangerous place for girls, offering few opportunities for escape; but there is also strength, loyalty, community and kinship. 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.”
—Tracey Schindler is a book reviewer and former teacher living in Bethany, Ontario

Read the full review on page 31 of the Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News

Winnipeg Free Press

“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.

Kadarusman’s previous novels Out of It (2010) and The Theory of Hummingbirds (2014) have been praised for their ability to relate to a young person’s world.”

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CanLit for LittleCanadians

“This is the story of Nia, a girl who lives with her five-year-old brother Rudi and their father in a tin shack along the train tracks of Jakarta, Indonesia. Though at fourteen she has finished middle school, she craves to continue her education, but there is no extra money for the school fees needed for high school. Instead she works to tend to the family: getting her brother to and from school, making meals, cleaning, and preparing batter for their father’s fried banana cart. Sadly, it also means bringing her father home from nights of drinking arak (an alcoholic drink) at Jango’s hut and cleaning up after Bapak’s poor choices. Still Nia tries to see a future, hopeful of saving money for school and writing stories about Dewi Kadita, the Queen of the Southern Sea, who offers life lessons and the promise of a better life from dire circumstances.

But, with any story, there are plot twists and conflicts that challenge characters and wrench the narrative from a smooth path to a satisfying terminus. For Nia, it’s a minibus crash from which she alone survives essentially unscathed. In a culture rife with superstitions and a predilection for supernatural stories, Nia’s survival is seen as a miracle and consequently their banana fritters attributed with being infused with good luck. But how fortunate is Nia truly?

This is the basis for Michelle Kadarusman’s story of Nia, but 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. (A portion of the book’s proceeds go to Plan International Canada’s #BecauseIAmaGirl campaign.) Even dealing with her father’s alcoholism and weakness of character, and inherent vulnerabilities because of poverty and alarming cultural and social attitudes, Nia is driven to continue her education and write her stories. She stands up for herself–‘I am not your promise to give.’ (pg. 196)– and makes sure that her life becomes the story she wants told.

I am here to live a different story. I am here to write my own story. (pg. 202)

There are so many tragedies in Nia’s story that come when others try to impose their lives on her circumstances. There are the corrupt police who assault her father; her best friend Yuli who may be involved in illicit activities as a way to improve her conditions; vigilantes who turn on Nia violently when the good luck they purported she peddled was proven to be lacking; and her father who is willing to choose his own needs over those of his children. Still Nia takes guidance from her mother, via dreams, and from Dewi Kadita, the princess cursed with disfiguring skin conditions relieved only in the Southern Sea, and begins to make a life for herself. 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.”

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Blazer Tales

“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…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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Jill Jemmett

Rating: ★★★★★

This was a fantastic story! It was exciting and suspenseful….

This book deals with some serious issues such as child marriage and the lack of available education for young girls in certain parts of the world. I’m sure some kids in Western countries couldn’t even imagine these kinds of things happening to girls like them….

I really enjoyed this novel! I highly recommend it for middle grade readers!”

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