Book Reviews, Middle Grade

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

I want to be able to call the sharks. Teach me the magic and show me the ways.

Blue Wing is desperate to become a shark caller, but instead she must befriend infuriating newcomer Maple, who arrives unexpectedly on Blue Wing’s island. At first, the girls are too angry to share their secrets and become friends. But when the tide breathes the promise of treasure, they must journey together to the bottom of the ocean to brave the deadliest shark of them all… 

Thank you to NetGalley and to Usborne for the early reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

This is such a beautiful story; it follows Blue Wing, a young girl living on an island in Papua New Guinea with her waspapi Siringen, someone who is caring for her after the death of her parents. Siringen is the village shark caller, and for two years Blue Wing has been begging him to teach her the magic of it, even though it is traditionally passed on to a son or nephew. Siringen has always refused, because Blue Wing has a dark motivation for learning – it was a shark that killed her parents, a huge beast named Xok by the locals, and she wants her revenge.

One day an American professor arrives, intent on doing research on the reefs in the area, and Blue Wing is tasked with keeping his daughter Maple company. But Maple has anger of her own, and while the two butt heads at first, they soon learn that they have a lot in common, and want to help one another find closure in their loss.

It’s a fairly slow-paced book, but this makes it no less enjoyable, as it pulls you in like the tide, showing you the wonders it holds. I loved the way it included so much of the Papuan Pidgin English within it, and how it portrayed the constant battle in spaces like these islands between the traditional culture and modern western influences. The buildup to the final moments is tense, and the ending, without giving too much away, is bittersweet but gloriously executed.

This is marketed as a children’s middle-grade book, but (as with many children and teen books) I believe that anyone would enjoy it, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

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