Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell is a living, breathing story of colourful imagery and magnificent language set on the beautiful island of Papua New Guinea. It is a story of respect and responsibility, the conflict of traditions versus what is perceived to be progress, and a personal search for truth, forgiveness and finding oneself.

More than anything else, Blue Wing wants to be a Shark Caller – to sing to the great monsters of the sea and lure them into her kasaman. No matter how many times she asks her guardian, Siringen, to teach her the ways of the water, his answer is always, “No”. Is it because she is desperate to kill the rogue shark, Xok, who savagely attacked her parents; is it because she is not yet ready for the responsibility of looking after these mighty animals or is it simply because she is a girl? Blue Wing will not give up her quest to avenge the death of her parents and soften the pain she feels inside.

Siringen, the local Shark Caller, is the protector of the traditions of their village. Despite the village chief seeking change and progress, Siringen holds onto the power of the past and fights to save what is special about their island home. Without his protection, the traditions are at risk of dying out. What is seen as impractical or no longer needed in today’s world will be thrown away and forgotten. This story is a lesson in respecting and valuing the ways of the past before they are gone forever.

One day, newcomers arrive on the island. Maple Hamelin and her father, Atlas, have come to study the sea and recover from a loss of their own. At first, the two girls clash and struggle to find some common ground, but eventually, they realise they are more alike than they realised and join together in a common battle to find out who they truly are. In their search for treasure and truth, they discover a one-of-a-kind friendship and a magic all their own.

I was absolutely shocked when I got to the end of The Shark Caller. The power and meaning of the final chapters stopped me in my tracks. Now, I need to go back to the beginning and read it all again to piece together each aspect of this stunning plot!

“Time is like a piece of string that goes all the way back in one direction and all the way forward in the other. You can’t just cut it to fit your own view of things. You can’t just take a section and say that’s how it was. You have to think of how it all slots together.”

Caution for adults:

This story contains a number of very intense themes: life, death, loss, guilt and forgiveness. Children who have already experienced the loss of a loved one first-hand may find this book difficult to take in. It could be incredibly helpful for a child who is dealing with some of these issues but they may require guidance and an understanding adult who is ready to listen and reiterate the messages shared by Blue Wing and Maple.

Thank you to Toppsta and Usborne for this beautiful book!

The Shark Caller will be published by Usborne in 2021.

Click on the cover below to find out more or purchase on-line from Amazon.

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