The Shark Caller
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...
Occasionally a book comes along that draws me in entirely with its compelling story and characters. This is one of those stories. It evoked images of some of my favourite writers, Sophie Anderson, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Eva Ibbotson in it's style and themes. The way Zillah Bethell created a sense of place in this was stunning and skilful writing.
The story is essentially about two girls and their relationship. Blue Wing is the native islander who lost her parents 2 years previously in a shark attack. Maple is the American interloper who has recently arrived and lost her mum to cancer a year ago. The two girls initially don't like each other, due to being wrapped up in their own anger and grief, but gradually they come to discover that they have many things in common and their friendship grows.
There is so much depth to this story, which is one of the reasons I make comparisons to some of my favourite writers. The story is about relationships and family and about grief and coming to terms with it in order to move on. The relationship between Maple and her father is compelling and heart breaking in places as they are both dealing with the grief of losing Maple's mother in their own ways. Whilst the relationship between Blue Wing and her 'Waspapi' Siringen is equally compelling; he is not her grandfather but there is a grandfatherly relationship between Siringen, who is so wise and the passionate and angry Blue Wing.
Alongside the main themes of the story there is also a subtle nod to how the modern world has encroached on the old world of simple traditions. I found this part of the story really interesting although it was always in the background. I found Siringen and Chimera who represent the old world and the old ways (being a shark caller and a witch doctor respectively) two of the most likeable and sympathetic characters. They stayed steadfastly rooted in the traditions of their island whilst most of the other characters moved into the modern world with it's cars and phones and loss of values.
The main story develops beautifully and draws you in to the relationship between the two girls. It also presents a mystery, in the question 'what Maple's father is really looking for?' There is also another mystery in the story which suddenly clicked for me part way through the book; it was subtly introduced and led to a magical and breath taking ending to the story. I won't say any more about what happens in the story as I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone.
This book to me feels like it should be a classic. The story is complex and surprising and the characters encourage genuine empathy. It would be perfect for 8 years plus but it's also one of those brilliant children's books that should appeal equally to adults, such is the skill of the story telling and characterisation.
It is due out on 4th February 2021, there is a link below should you wish to order it.