Berani by Michelle Kadarusman

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This is a wonderful story of hope lost and found.  Malia has grown up in Indonesia. Her father has died and her mother, a Canadian academic, is planning on taking 13-year-old Malia back to Toronto. The pain of leaving her home, friends and her grandmother is the sad back story to the decision she makes to stand up for the plight of Orangutans in her loved home of Indonesia. She begins the process to become an ‘activist’ to raise awareness of how Palm oil production is impacting rainforests and the homes of the orangutans.  Unfortunately, the presentation that she gives at school creates unintended negative consequences for others. Ari, is a young teen from a rural area in Java, and has been given the opportunity for high school education in a bigger community in Malang where he stays with an uncle and his captive orangutan. Ari’s chance encounter with Malia while attending a chess competition at her much larger private school in Surabaya opens his eyes to the need to return the large primate to his natural world, and also to the dilemma of being given education while his female cousin, Suni, must remain in the rural village working on the rice paddies. Berani is the orangutan who needs rescuing before it is too late. Will the stories of Malia, Ari, Suni and Berani reveal that there is hope for them all, or will their lives end in a stalemate?

Written in the voices of Malia, Ari and even Berani, we discover the inner turmoils of each as they individually reflect on their life and the changes that they have to deal with. There is real beauty in this tale - a gentle insight into cross-cultural life in Indonesia, the value of education, and the plight of the vulnerable orangutans. Like the animal narrator in Katherine Applegate’s The one and only Ivan, the voice of Berani is naive and his language is simple and there is an appealing innocence to the young orangutan’s understanding of his past and present life. I absolutely loved this story and can highly recommend it for young readers with a passion for Indonesia or the environment, or even for those who want their eyes opened to the world. This book is charming and the setting has all the joy of a culture that is warm and endearing. Indonesian speakers will understand the title has another layer of meaning that is only revealed to English speakers at the end of the novel. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes: Orangutans, Indonesia, Environmental activism, Grief, Bravery, Chess, Hope.

Carolyn Hull