________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006


An Ordinary Courage: Naomi in Indonesia. 

Karmel Schreyer.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2006.
147 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-894283-70-8. 

Subject Headings:
Indonesia-Juvenile fiction.
Islam-Juvenile fiction.
September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001-Juvenile fiction.
Bali Bombings, Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, 2002-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Kristin Butcher. 

** /4 


Naomi was at the hotel business centre using the Internet. She had a list of things to print out for the school and didn’t have much time, but she couldn’t resist checking the news. To her dismay she read an item from The Jakarta Post about a riot that had broken out in several predominantly Chinese neighbourhoods in that big city. No one was ready to pinpoint a cause, but the devaluation of the country’s currency was mentioned. Naomi checked out an Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, and was even more unhappy to see that the incident in Jakarta had made mention in an Australian paper. Naomi sighed heavily and stared at the computer screen, forgetting about lessons [sic] plans and verb lists and word games.

Naomi thought about what Wahab had told her about ethnic rioting in the past. She thought of Mei-mei. Naomi grabbed her bag and left the room, running out past the gate and up the dirt path beside it, to the beach. Naomi threw her bag on the sand and lay down on her back next to it, her breathing ragged and heavy. I’m not going to worry! Naomi forced herself to listen to the sound of the waves. She forced her breathing to slow down, as if in tune to the waves. It took several minutes for Naomi to feel calm once again. She opened her eyes and looked at the palm leaves in the sky above her, and the clear blue cloudless sky beyond. She looked to her right and saw several people laying [sic] on the beach, enjoying the day—oblivious to what had just happened in Jakarta, Naomi thought.



     An Ordinary Courage completes Karmel Schreyer’s trilogy of novels about Naomi Nazarevich and her teen years spent in Asia. In book one, 12-year-old Naomi lives with her mother in Japan. The second installment follows Naomi to Hong Kong. In the final book, Naomi is 18 and living in Indonesia with an expanded family that includes her new step dad, Steve, and a young adopted Chinese sister named Mei-mei. The four arrive at a hotel in Jakarta on September 11, 2001, for a brief stopover before continuing on to Lombok where Steve will begin his new posting with the UN. However, the group’s exuberant mood is quickly dashed by the discovery that two aircraft have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, killing nearly 3000 people. This news distresses the family and also frightens them since the terrorists responsible for this horrible act are believed to be Muslim and Indonesia is largely a Muslim country. Nevertheless, they continue on their way and quickly settle into their new tropical island home. Steve begins work on Lombok’s much-needed wastewater disposal plant while Naomi, her mother, and Farah, the wife of one of Steve’s coworkers, prepare to open an English language school. 

     For the most part, the novel focuses on the political unrest of the area as it escalates into disaster. Schreyer also throws in a not-quite romance for Naomi, some cultural lessons for readers, and a daring escape from Lombok. The loose ends are tied up in the final chapter where a reporter is fed all the details by a 22-year-old Naomi about to embark on her own United Nations career.

     Schreyer is to be admired for sharing her knowledge of Indonesia and its culture and for trying to teach young readers about 9/11 and its far-reaching effects. Unfortunately, her approach is not likely to appeal to her target audience, and that is because it is constructed around the ‘big’ picture, and young readers need to relate to events on a more personal level. Having the characters of the novel argue about world issues does not personalize them, and since that is generally the way Schreyer has presented most of the facts, the story tends to bog down. In addition, her style is to ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’, an approach which slows things up even more. The one exception is the escape scene near the end. That was powerful and exciting, and it really moved. If Schreyer had written the rest of the novel the way she wrote that scene, her story would have a much greater impact.  

     These shortcomings aside, the most irritating thing about this novel was the editing – or lack thereof. The book was riddled with typos, grammatical errors, and character misidentification. I can’t count the number of times I had to stop and reread passages to try to figure out who was talking or doing something. When readers pay $15.00 for a book, they deserve better. 

Recommended with reservations.  

Kristin Butcher lives in Campbell River, BC, and writes for children and young adults. 

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.