A teenage girl living in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, finds the resolve to defy her unfortunate circumstances and achieve her dreams.
Fourteen-year-old Nia desperately wants to continue her education and become a writer, but her family can’t afford the school fees. Instead, she spends her days looking after her 5-year-old brother, Rudi, doing chores, and helping her alcoholic father sell banana fritters at the market. To escape their miserable existence, Nia tells Rudi stories about their late mother and writes stories inspired by her favorite folktale, “Queen of the Southern Sea.” And just as she promised her late mother, Nia ensures that the protagonist in her stories, Dewi Kadita, always comes out on top. One day, Nia miraculously escapes from a minibus accident unscathed. Smooth operator Oskar witnesses the accident and embellishes her survival into “a miracle”; from then on, Nia’s “good-luck magic” fritters sell like hot cakes. Against her good judgement, Nia starts charging double so she can save up for her school fees. But things backfire and tension mounts. In the end, Nia draws strength from her heroine, Dewi, and finds the courage to seize control of her own destiny. 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. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-14)