Tag Archives: camping

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

Roughing It Out in the Wilderness: Books to Keep You Camping

I am a book nerd avatar

Roughing It Out in the Wilderness:

Books to Keep You Camping

08.06.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I’ve been literally disconnected the past few weeks since I packed my bags, my tent, and my husband, and  children to the wilderness of Camp Byng, as in Byng Island—and yes, there was no electricity, nor Wi-Fi, nor any other means of connection that required a plug-in.

It was, for me, a test of sorts, of my ability to adapt to a different environment, to stretch my patience as well as my ingenuity, and ultimately learn how to relax in the face of challenges. And I’ll be the first to admit, I pretty much failed on all counts. This was, after all, my first camping trip with my new family since my last camping trip with my parents as a kid in 1986.

Our travel consisted of two-to-three hours of driving, one traffic jam, and two pit stops, when I realized my skinny jeans were too tight and that proper dress for camping should really consist of track pants, sneakers, or hiking boots rather than sexy sling back sandals.

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camping - drive
Our drive to Byng Island. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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—I have to inject here, in fairness, that in all consideration, my husband and I were up the night before until 3:00 a.m. the next morning still packing for a family of four consisting of two young ones: a nine-year-old hyperactive boy, and a feisty three-year-old girl whose only joy in the outdoors has extended only as far as our own backyard.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law, a law enforcer and self-made boy scout, helped my husband pitch our tent, while my brother and his girlfriend came to the rescue with our sunshade—et voila! Camp was on!

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E. pitching the last peg of our tent. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
E. pitching the last peg of our tent. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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We enjoyed a good dose of outdoor living with a morning 1 km trek to the washrooms to relieve ourselves and to shower. And when I say “shower,” I mean effectively trying to balance your naked self and your clothes from touching or toppling all over the dirty floor in a claustrophobic stall meant for someone half your size, while avoiding spiders and mosquitoes from targeting you for their all-buffet breakfast even before you’ve had a chance to eat yours.

Am I complaining? No. It took great skill and dexterity, plus advance planning in order to maintain some form of freshness in the wonderful wild. I was extremely proud of myself. For you novice campers, don’t forget to wear your flip-flops in the shower, bring a plastic bag for your wet clothes, and a mosquito clip to keep those bugs from eating you alive!

And, I’ll say this, it’s glorious to shower when on a camping trip. You realize and relish the importance of cold, clean water in your life. I’m a sole believer in the advocacy of clean water. Do what you can now to preserve this precious resource. It’s bad enough we have to slather ourselves in the guck of sunscreen against the harsh rays of the sun just to go outside due to the irresponsibility and neglect of our environment, but I’d hate to see the day when clean water simply ceases to exist.

But, aside from showering ballerina-style, we also enjoyed the commune of a kitchen tent, where we gathered to eat our grilled breakfasts, lunches, and dinners while reminiscing our turbulent and quick childhoods. And there’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee in the morning that you brewed yourself with only a fire and a metal can. (Beat that, Starbucks!)

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Family bonding during our camping trip, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Family bonding during our camping trip, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And of course, the kids were proud to showcase their scout-skills with the fine art of roasting the perfect marshmallow.

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Scoutmaster showing his troops how to build a campfire. Seems no one is paying attention, just anxious to roast their marshmallows. (c) Photo by Caesar S. Garcia. All rights reserved.
Scoutmaster showing his troops how to build a campfire. Seems no one is paying attention, just anxious to roast their marshmallows. (c) Photo by Caesar S. Garcia. All rights reserved.

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The boys roasting marshmallows. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The boys roasting marshmallows. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And though it rained a bit on our trip, the weather allowed us some real time to hide in our tents, rest, relax, and bond with our families—especially for my daughter who was shocked to realize we were actually going to sleep outside. She was even further shocked at the sight of our “huge night-light!”

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The kids getting ready for bed in their sleeping bags. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids getting ready for bed in their sleeping bags. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The trip was a wonderful opportunity to reunite with old family friends with whom we hadn’t gone camping with for more than 20 years. And it was also an opportunity to test our ability in facing nature head-on, which undoubtedly forced me to not only disconnect electronically, but to also reconnect with loved ones the old-fashioned way.

I was happy to discover just how intelligent and grown-up my younger brother turned out to be during our heart-to-heart conversation that not only changed my perspective and my life, but lasted until 3:00 a.m. over a campfire.

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My kid brother---who isn't a "kid" anymore. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My kid brother—who isn’t a “kid” anymore. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And I was able to spend some quiet, quality time with my daughter who had been missing me since she transferred to her own “big bed” earlier this year.

M. enjoying a quiet walk on Byng Island. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
M. enjoying a quiet walk on Byng Island. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The trip overall, was a learning experience—and one, we, as a family, look forward to participating in again next year.

Here are some camping books you might like to consider for your next trip:

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt

scaredy squirrel goes camping

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A Camping Spree with Mr. McGee by Chris Van Dusen

camping spree with mr magee

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Camp Out!: The Ultimate Kids’ Guide by Lynn Brunelle

camp out ultimate kids guide

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The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson

the down and dirty guide to camping with kids

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Have you ever been on a camping trip?

What’s the worst or funniest thing that’s ever happened to you?

Recommend a great place to go camping.

Recommend a good book to read for a camping trip.

What’s your best camping tip?

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zara bird autograph