GIRL OF THE SOUTHERN SEA By Michelle Kadarusman
Genre: Middle-Grade Contemporary
Publication: February 2nd, 2021
Publisher: University Queensland Press
Source: Review copy received as part of the @AusYABloggers tour, THANK YOU.
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A gifted student, Nia longs to attend high school so she can follow her dream and become a writer. She has notebooks filled with stories she’s created about the mythological Dewi Kadita, Princess of the Southern Sea. But her family has barely enough money for food, let alone an education, so Nia’s days are spent running their food cart and raising her younger brother.
Following a miraculous escape from a bus accident, Nia is gifted with good-luck magic. Or at least that’s what everyone’s saying. Soon their family business is booming and there might even be enough money to return to school. But how long can her good luck last?
When a secret promise threatens everything she’s hoped for, Nia must find a way to break the mould and write her own future.
About The Author: Michelle’s first middle-grade novel The Theory of Hummingbords was nominated for the OLA Silver Birch Express, MYRCA Sundogs and SYRCA Diamond Willow awards. Her novel Girl of the Southern Sea was a 2019 Governor General’s Award finalist, USBBY Outstanding Book and Freeman Book Award Honorable Mention. Her new novel, Music for Teens, released in 2020.
Michelle grew up in Melbourne, Australia and has also lived in Bali, Surabaya and Jakarta in Indonesia. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada. You can find her @ Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Goodreads.
The story opens in the slums of Jakarta Indonesia with POV Nia trying to get her drunken father home. A series of events (no spoilers here) leaves 14-year-old Nia’s father MIA and sees her having to work the Family’s banana cart by herself to feed herself, her 5-year-old brother Rudi, and to pay off their fathers’ debts.
Nia has had to play the role of mother to her little brother since their mother died giving birth to him. Even with this, Nia has no hated or resentment towards Rudi, rather she looks at having him as still having a piece of her mum to hold. She does come to, and rightly so, resent her father’s addiction to alcohol.
Nia is a natural-born storyteller, and she yearns to attend high school, and later become a writer. But sadly, in Nia’s part of the world, the government schools are only free until the end of middle school and Nia does not have enough money for the fees to attend high school. Even though I am trying to be spoiler-free, I will say that I love that Michelle included the stories that Nia writes her little brother and friends, so that the reader can enjoy them too.
At 14 Nia’s character is age-wise on the border of middle grade and young adult, Girl of the Southern Sea has been written for the MG market. The story is quick and engaging, written in a beautifully simple and flowing style. And fear not, the story does have a happy ending. Everything does not end all fairytale and fluffy, but the reader is left with the hope that things will improve for Nia, thanks to her being a hard worker and never giving up on her dreams.
Ultimately Girl of the Southern Sea is a story of never giving up or losing hope. A story of holding onto your dreams and working hard to make them a reality.
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