* CONTAINS SPOILERS
An interesting fact about The Bear is that it’s based on the true story of a couple who were killed in Algonquin Park. For her book, Claire Cameron added children to the story.
Five-year old Anna is camping with her parents and younger brother on a small island in Algonquin Park. She wakes up at night to yelling and screaming. First, it’s her mother screaming and then soon after, her father. She thinks her parents are mad at her. Things don’t become any clearer when her father scoops her out of the tent and sticks her into their huge portable fridge. He manages to get her brother, Alex, into the fridge and wedge a rock in the door so they can get air. Anna can’t see much from inside the fridge, but she hears noises and sees the fur of a strange dog. When Anna and Alex are finally able to escape the fridge in the morning, their parents are not around and the campsite has been destroyed. From there begins Anna and Alex’s harrowing experience getting off the island and surviving in the wilderness for the next few days: alone, confused and frightened.
I’ve always been interested in survivor stories and I like that we get the perspective of this tale from a five-year old little girl, but Claire Cameron adds another layer by including the back story of their family. Throughout her ordeal, Anna often gives us glimpses of little, innocent moments of love she shared with her mother. She describes the secret separation of her parents and how both children achingly missed their father. Anna remembers how much she was loved and draws on these memories for hope, to find strength and courage to push on, to acknowledge her responsibility as an older sister to Alex and be bigger than she is. It was both heartbreaking and beautiful to read.
As interesting as it is to have Anna as the narrator, reading rambling childish thoughts for a whole book can be incredibly frustrating and sometimes boring. It is probably the book’s greatest weakness. Don’t get me wrong, Anna was often very imaginative in her interpretation of the situation, but just as often she was repetitive. In addition, I think The Bear is too long and would have been better as a novella. I think Claire Cameron wanted to touch on Anna’s trauma afterwards, but I felt it dragged the story out even more and unnecessarily.
Overall, I thought The Bear was a very good book, original and thrilling. My children are roughly the same age as the two survivors in the book, so I thought about them at almost every page. I stared at my kids, trying to imagine them in the same terrifying scenario as little Anna and Alex. I thought if I read this book it would exacerbate my already existing mom fears or I would cry through the whole thing, but I didn’t. No doubt because the story isn’t just about a bear attack and two little kids trying to survive, it’s about the love of a family and how there’s always hope to be found in love.
Have you read The Bear? What do you think?