Dianne Wolfer, The Shark Caller, Random House Australia, 1 August 2016, 247pp., $17.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780143780557
The Shark Caller is a complex tale set in Papua New Guinea that tells the story of Izzy, a surviving twin who is presented with a challenge – to undertake a traditional diving ritual. It is dangerous but important to her clan. Her trusted friend, Noah will be her guide but she is the only person who can take on this role.
This is a book that deals with a lot of different situations and relationships. Death, separation, grief, courage, friendship, responsibility, and danger; set against the impacts of logging in a part of the world reliant on keeping the balance of nature intact.
Every element of The Shark Caller works together to stress the complexity of the relationships between the protagonist and those around her, the rituals and beliefs of the local people, and the natural environment. Each chapter heading relates to an aspect of personal development – Knowing, Accepting, Seeking, Acknowledging, etc – followed by a philosophical quotation from numerous sources. In addition, Wolfer introduces the tale of Mako in poetic form throughout the narrative.
The Shark Caller is an adventurous undertaking. Wolfer does not shy away from confronting the emotional and physical roller-coaster of life for this early-teen who is thrust into a situation in which she must confront her past and her future by taking responsibility for the present.
Wolfer has paid particular attention to the cultural traditions of this region of Papua New Guinea by including local language, and focusing on the rituals that are part of the clan’s everyday life. For most part, this creates an enticing foray into another culture, however I did find use of the local language to be a distraction at times. While I certainly understand the rationale for its inclusion, my concern is that the pronunciation of the language – which is in dialogue form – may alienate young readers from taking in the importance of every word of this engrossing story.
Reviewed by Jennifer Mors