The Bear

I had two reviews submitted for this book on the same day, both by people who don’t tend to read this kind of story.  I am going to post both of them, because they are both really interesting perspectives.  My conclusion?  I will read this book, while holding my children, with all the lights on.  And try not to think about it the next time I go camping with my kids in Algonquin.

Merilyn’s review:

I did not want to read this book. The Author’s Note made it clear that this was no warm, fuzzy anthropomorphic bear-meets-person tale. It was fiction, but based on a true story. So, I did not want to read this book, but I glanced at the first couple of pages and found it riveting.

It is told in the voice of a young girl, almost six years old. Like a typical six-year-old, the narrative is a stream of consciousness, sometimes linear, sometimes darting backwards or sideways as something catches its fancy. The author inserts enough information for the naïve and innocent child to pass on the most chilling facts while not understanding completely what is happening. The juxtaposition of brutal violence with childlike self-centredness is deeply unsettling.

Once I started, I could not release the book’s grip on me, even though I felt like hiding behind my couch for the whole time it took me to read it. The author made me feel how Anna, the little girl, must have felt.

I cannot say I am glad that I read The Bear, but I have it inside me now, like the black dog in the book.



Melissa’s review:

The Bear by Canadian author Claire Cameron is the story of five year old Anna and her two year old brother Alex as they struggle for survival in Algonquin Provincial Park after their parents are killed by a bear.  The story is narrated by Anna, and while this sometimes means that it can be difficult to figure out what she’s talking about (for example she mentions bubbles on her legs, which turns out to be a rash from poison ivy), it creates a unique perspective that sets this novel apart.
The story begins with the family camping near lake Opeongo, reunited after a brief separation of the parents.  Anna is awoken by her mother’s screams and her father desperately pulling her out of the tent and throwing her and her brother in the family’s large cooler.  From the children’s perspective the attack consists of a black nose and claws as seen through an air gap in the cooler, and when they emerge the next morning their mother is lying in the grass, barely alive, and their father is nowhere to be seen. The mother tells Anna that she must take her brother and leave in the canoe, and so the children depart the camp thinking that their parents will follow later.  Due to her age, Anna doesn’t understand the danger of the situation; from her perspective it was a dog in the campsite, not a bear, her mother is too tired to move rather than mortally wounded and her father has left because he is angry with her.
Here is where the real heart wrenching story begins as two small children fight for survival as best as they can and how in the aftermath Anna comes to terms with what has happened.  I have nothing but praise for Claire Cameron, who didn’t rely on the horror of the initial attack to drive the story but created this wonderful character whose eyes we see through; we see her frustration with her little brother, trying to make her father proud so he won’t be angry with her anymore, her guilt for leaving her mother.  It all concludes with one of the best, most succinct endings I have ever read, with adult Anna returning to the site of the attack, finally able to let go of what happened to her family all those years before.
Once I started this novel it took precedence over food, sleep and most of my conscious thought.  It was an emotional roller coaster that was made all the more difficult for me because I have a niece and nephew close to the ages of Anna and Alex.  I haven’t been this affected by a novel in a long time and I whole heartedly recommend it.

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