Review: The Song Walker

Written by Zillah Bethell
Cover and inside illustration by Saara Söderlund
Published by Usborne Publishing

The Song Walker is an absolutely stunning, transcendent, and deeply moving story:  a story of friendship, of courage and of hope set in the fierce beauty of the Australian Outback that held me spellbound throughout.  I have no doubt whatsoever that this will be one of my books of 2023!

A young girl walks aimlessly through the relentless heat of the Australian Outback having no memory of who she is, nor why or how she got there.  Wearing one black shoe, a silky black dress and carrying a locked metallic case, she is woefully ill-equipped to face the fiercely beautiful and dangerous landscape.  Waking from the coldness of the night to the merciless heat of the morning sun, she meets Tarni, a First Country Australian, and so begins the most incredible, awe-inspiring, and courageous journey …

And oh my goodness – what a deadly journey the girls have undertaken!  The tense anticipation, the glimpses into each girl’s secrets, the twists, revelations and danger:  at times, I had my heart in my mouth and, at others, tears streamed down my face. I wish I could say more, but I really don’t want to give away any spoilers.  Suffice to say that this is an unforgettable story that sang its way into my heart, and left an indelible impression. 

In their own ways, both girls are trapped and lost, and are undertaking a quest to find what is most important to them whilst at the same time struggling with what it means to lose your sense of self and to reclaim your identity.   The friendship between the girls is beautifully realised and so authentic as they begin to open up to each other, as they grapple with the ups and downs of forming bonds of sisterhood, dealing with thorny issues, falling outs, compromise and really getting to know and understand each other.  They find a lasting, empathetic friendship as they wander across the desert, gradually building trust and understanding more about each other’s lives and the people they want to become.  I was completely gripped by their plight, by their courage and resilience as they fight for survival, face heart-stopping dangerous situations and reveal each other’s secrets. 

Memory and music both play an important part in this story.  For one of the girl’s, her memories of her past life and who she is are trapped, only being triggered in dream flashbacks and sparked by the contents of the case she carries.  They show her regrets, fear, loneliness and confusion which she needs to piece together and build into a new song for her life. Tarni’s memories are related to her identity and cultural heritage as a First Country Australian, following the path of song maps left by her ancestors and respecting the land, the history and the mysticism that is her birth right.

The Song Walker is a story that beats to its own poignant and heartfelt pulse that encapsulates friendship, pain, identity and hope in the most remarkable, unmissable and unforgettable adventure. An absolute masterpiece!

Thank you to Fritha Lindqvist and Usborne for a proof copy in exchange for my honest opinion.  I have now bought a gorgeous finished copy for my class library.

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