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The Song Walker by Zillah Bethell – Usborne Books

Zillah Bethell has done it again! Never did I think I could love a book as much as The Shark Caller but The Song Walker is another triumph, a truly special book. My heart sang whilst reading this extraordinary story of two girls’ incredible journey across the Australian Outback.

There are three questions I need to find the answers to: Where am I? What am I doing here? And…Who am I?

When a young girl wakes up in the middle of the desert, she has no idea where or who she is. She’s wearing one shoe, a black silk dress and she is lugging a strange, heavy case. She strains for a flicker of a memory of… well… anything, but there is nothing. Lost and alone, without any vital supplies, she wanders aimlessly in the searing heat becoming more and more disorientated. So it’s inevitable that she eventually collapses…

…sometime later she regains consciousness to find she is being force fed water by another girl who introduces herself as Tarni. Tarni is also alone yet fiercely determined and self-sufficient. Coming from Utopia, a small Alyawarre town she is a competent navigator of the bush. The fact she is wandering alone out there is purely of her own choosing – Tarni is on a personal crusade and with no other hope of survival, the girl in the black dress is forced to tag along.

The desert is an unforgiving and dangerous place. Sandstorms, snakes and hunters are just some of the threats the girls encounter on their way, as well as the constant exposure to the sun and dehydration. The constant threat from various sources makes The Song Walker a compulsive read, that and the tantalising flashes of memory the girl in the black dress experiences. She grapples to piece together the jigsaw of the snippets of her life that she receives momentarily, wrestling with her amnesia and willing herself to remember. It’s a long frustrating road but Tarni is increasingly there to support her and friendship begins to blossom. Except both girls are hiding secrets…

I became so invested in the girls’ quest and them acheiving their individual end goals, I simply could not tear myself from the story. I felt as if I was there with them every step of the way -setting up camp nestled behind rocks, building fires as nightfall approaches and snuggling into a blanket under the stars. Zillah Bethell has a way of stealing a little piece of your heart with each book she writes. In her signature style, she completely moved me with the clever unravelling of the girl in the black dress’ story and the raw emotion that builds to to the big reveal. It’s a story that will stay with me for a long time to come.

The only other book I have read that includes the spiritual beliefs of First Country Australians is Lisa Fuller’s Young Adult novel Ghost Bird and it was lovely to return to the outback and explore some more. If you’ve read the Shark Caller you’ll know that Zillah Bethell grew up in Papua New Guinea. In her author notes, Zillah explains the significance of the ‘songlines’ (sometimes called dreaming tracks) of First Country Australians she first heard about as a child living in PNG. A navigational tool or ‘map song’ for travelling across the land, walking the songlines is also believed to keep the land alive.

The Song Walker will be published by Usborne Books on 2nd February 2023.

With thanks to Usborne Publishing for sending me a proof copy of this wonderful book.

I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour organised by Kaleidoscopic Tours.

Also by Zillah Bethell…

Read my reviews by clicking on the covers below:


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