Book Review: The Bear by Claire Cameron

02.27.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

the bear

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Category: Fiction

Author: Claire Cameron

Format: Trade Paperback, 226 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67902-2

Pub Date: February 11, 2014

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Summary from Publisher:

The black dog is not scratching. He goes back to his sniffing and huffing and then he starts cracking his bone. Stick and I are huddled tight. . . . It is dark and no Daddy or Mommy and after a while I watch the lids of my eyes close down like jaws.

Told from the point of view of a six-year-old child, The Bear is the story of Anna and her little brother, Stick–two young children forced to fend for themselves in Algonquin Park after a black bear attacks their parents. A gripping and mesmerizing exploration of the child psyche, this is a survival story unlike any other, one that asks what it takes to survive in the wilderness and what happens when predation comes from within.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet

The Bear by Claire Cameron is an emotional story birthed from a real-life event, the tragedy of Raymond Jakubauskas and Carola Frehe in October 1991 on Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park, two hundred miles northeast of Toronto. The couple who had planned a three-day camping trip never returned, but were attacked and killed by a large male black bear for no apparent rationale other than predation.

The high interest in this novel is not perhaps the tragedy of its plot, but instead the voice of its narrator, young five-year-old Anna, who must navigate a nearly 3,000 square mile of wilderness on her own in care of her much younger brother, Alex, affectionately known and called Stick, who is only two years of age, after the brutal attack on her parents while on a camping trip.

Though I did find the narrative sometimes distracting  and contrived, obvious in its attempt to sound like a five-year-old while some of the plot outcomes were also somewhat unrealistic, the horror of knowing a child so young must be left alone, unattended, lost, and left to fend for not only herself, but also her little brother in answer to abruptly becoming an orphan without full knowledge of this, is painfully harrowing, a force that will coerce almost any reader to continue to read on.

The heart of the book is in its travesty and loss, a child’s lucid memory, her passionate attachments, the immediacy of her self-preservation, the innocence of her deductions, and the way in which children are brutally candid, and exceptionally thoughtful in their awareness, unbashful in their displays of love and affection.

Which is why children are so easily beloved—they are the uncensored selves we as adults painfully grown out of. And why it is equally horrific to witness the news of a child in danger, which is what propels this book forward.

The characters, as seen through the eyes of five-year-old Anna, are shown in the microscopic detail of her plain and honest view from Stick’s incessant stuffed-up breathing, his heavy-set bottom, his two-year-old waddle, and his insatiable love for cookies; to Grandfather’s scent of pipe, the weariness and nostalgia of his sorrow, to the familiarity of his pull-out chair; and the Lipstick Lady’s clinical demeanor and inability to genuinely connect with children, merely capable of one-sided misinterpretation when attempting to analyze Anna’s response to the tragedy of her parents’ deaths.

The plot, too, while at times, slow—not much seems to happen from the onset of the bear attack to the ways in which the children must meander through the wilderness on their own—the details depicted through Anna’s narrative convey the genuine willfulness a child has in trying to obey his or her mother’s last wishes, as well as the natural frustration a child encounters at being given responsibilities that far exceeds his or her abilities.

While some of the plot outcomes seemed far too unrealistic, perhaps my reading felt so, in conjunction with the narrative writing style also failing to consistently seem seamless. And the language sometimes too juvenile to truly represent how a five-year-old girl might respond to such a crisis.

But, the quest to survive as an instinctual need to move forward as much as it is a direct instruction from Anna’s mother to ride in a canoe, take Stick with her, and wait because they will come, is the thriving action in the novel.

Its power seen most clearly in Anna’s love and connection to her teddy bear, Gwen, who she sniffs often for comfort and security; her frustration at carrying the burden of being an older sister when five-years-old is obviously not old enough to be a real babysitter to her baby brother, Stick; and the tenderness and desperation Anna feels in the ideology that she’s created in her mind of belonging to a family of four.

While Anna is the main narrator, it was Stick, whom I felt most empathy for. A two-year-old in the wilderness, naked from the waist down, hungry with only a few cookies, a few berries, and mud water to quench on, feverish and soiled, falling prey to poison ivy, and at the constant mercy of the elements, and a bossy sister whose lack of nurturing could not be blamed any more than could her age—it was Stick, the secondary character in the book, who made my reading plunge into a well of pity and sorrow, intensifying my need for the two children to succeed.

The Bear will certainly alert its readers to the real dangers of the wild, a sobering wake-up call that requires our knowledge and respect of the animal kingdom we so often tend to underestimate and renew our belief in the autonomy and resilience of our children especially when faced with crisis.

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Characters: 3 stars

Pacing: 2.5 stars

Cover Design: 2.5 stars

Plot: 2.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

claire cameron

Claire Cameron’s first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Authur Ellis Award for best first crime fiction novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Cameron’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and The Millions. She worked as a wilderness instructor in Ontario’s Algonquin Park and for Outward Bound. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

– From inside jacket

Links:

You can connect with Claire on her official website.

You can like Claire on Facebook.

You can follow Claire on Twitter.

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Imagine yourself as a five-year-old girl or two-year-old boy. What would you do to try to survive in the wilderness without your parents?

Have you ever encountered a bear while on a camping trip? What was your experience like?

Have you read “The Bear” by Claire Cameron yet? What do think of it?

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zara cat stamp

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