Mesmerising, beautiful and harrowing, 'The Shark Caller' by Zillah Bethell is like nothing else I have read. It is uniquely magical, vivid and just utterly absorbing. This is an exemplary children's book.
On the shores of Papua New Guinea, Blue Wing dreams of becoming a shark caller. Since her parents were killed by a damaged shark called Xok, she's desperate to learn the magical ways from her master and seek revenge. But when a newcomer, Maple, arrives, she brings with her a shared understanding of grief and slowly a friendship blossoms with Blue Wing, one that will see them face the dangers of the sea together…
There are so many things that make 'The Shark Caller' a standout book for 2021. Where to start? Firstly, the story itself is one that will stay with you: dream-like, shocking, tender and full of extraordinary wisdom. There are lines almost transcendental in their beauty that they need quoting or compiled into a meditative collection. The 'long now' is an example of this. Then there's the setting itself. The shores of Papua New Guinea make for a welcome retreat in this darkest of winters: glittering, real, welcoming but threatening too - a unique place to go in the pages of a book. Then the voice. Blue Wing is pure, brave, full of angst and guilt and love. Zillah Bethell brings her alive perfectly, hinged with local dialect and spark. Blue Wing's ending will leave you breathless.
There are some books that, when all the component parts come together, create an almost indefinable magic: human, wise but also about the ebb and flow of that ocean we call life, and death. The long now. This is one of those books. Magnificent.