Both Girl of the Southern Sea and Fire Song were fabulous books, but they were also incredibly sad for different, but similar reasons.

Girl of the Southern Sea

In the middle grade book Girl of the Southern Sea by Toronto author Michelle Kadarusman ($19.95, Pajama Press), we meet Nia, a young girl who lives in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, who dreams about being a writer, but puts those dreams on hold in order to survive.

Nia helps run the family’s banana fritter cart, keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads while her father spends what little money they have on drinking.

When Nia survives a deadly minibus crash, she takes advantage of a local superstition in order to earn more money and hopefully go to school to pursue her dreams.

“She soon discovers what a dangerous game she’s playing when her father’s plan to marry her off to an older man is revealed, and Nia must use all her wits to protect her dreams.”

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.

While Nia’s father disgusts me by the choices he makes, Nia shows readers what happens when you are brave enough to follow your dreams.

Silouette of two boys on a rock as the sun sets.
Fire Song has also been made into a movie.

Fire Song

Fire Song by Toronto author Adam Garnet Jones ($12.95, Annick Press) features the story of Shane, who is still trying to recover from the suicide of his younger sister, Destiny.

His mom, who has been a rock his whole life, has completely fallen apart, unable to cope with the death of her child, leaving Shane to pick up the pieces – literally. His home on the northern Ontario reservation is literally caving in on them, leaking roofs, mould everywhere. Shane wants to leave his community, go to school in Toronto, to bring his knowledge back to his community, making it a better place. He also dreams of taking his friend David to the city with him, where they can be themselves rather than hiding their relationship from everyone on the reservation.

“A powerful story about love, grief and moving on. Fire Song Deftly navigates the struggles of two Indigenous gay teenagers trying to find their place in the word.”

I found this book incredibly difficult to read and so incredibly heartbreaking. There were a lot of awful things in the book, but Shane is a pretty amazing character who tries to do what is right while battling some very difficult odds, ones that should not be found in Canada.

We have hundreds of years of history with our First Nations people and not a lot of it is good. I do not know the solution, but I do know in Canada, our fellow citizens should be able to access clean water, live in houses that are safe and communities where there is hope.

Fire Song was quite the eye opener, and one I encourage every Canadian to read.

Fire Song has been made into a movie. Watch the trailer below.

A copy of these books were provided by Pajama Press and Annick Press
for an honest review. The opinions are my own.