In Jakarta, Indonesia, 14-year-old Nia struggles to take care of her 5-year-old brother Rudi in their shantytown home along the railroad tracks. Their mother had died while giving birth to Rudi, and now their grieving father drinks heavily and often leaves them for days at a time.
For several years, Nia had gone to school and was recognized as a gifted writer by her teachers and principal. But now that Nia is in charge of selling fried bananas from her father’s food cart—the family’s sole source of income—there’s no time for school or enough money to pay the fees.
When Nia survives a minibus crash unscathed while others are injured or die, word spreads that she brings good luck, and people flock to her food cart. Influenced by a man whom she doesn’t realize has ulterior motives, Nia begins to charge double for her wares. When it becomes evident that she’s just an ordinary girl with no magical powers selling common food, mob violence almost costs Nia her life.
Still, her burning desire to return to school spurs her on. With the help and kindness of several community members, Nia slowly begins to realize her dream.
Author Michelle Kadarusman spent many years living in Indonesia and listened to the stories of numerous young women who had faced daunting obstacles before writing this novel for middle schoolers.
“Although this story is set in Jakarta, it is important to note that girls with lives and stories like Nia’s are not confined to this region alone,” Kadarusman said. “Poverty; forced marriages; and lack of health care, education, and opportunities for girls are not assigned to one continent, country, culture, or religion. They are global issues that affect girls all over the world, even in developed countries.” (Pajama Press)