My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The UGDSB has just chosen this book as our board-wide novel for secondary students and author Ms. Cameron will be visiting schools in May 2015. After reading this terrifying novel, I am nervous about the problematic areas in Cameron’s choices. As a parent, I can only describe the first 2/3 of the books as horrific, as main character Anna, 5 years old, attempts to care for her 2 year old brother in the wilderness of Algonquin Park after a trauma happens to Anna’s parents and the two children are left on their own. Nothing could be scarier except…trying to find food, and exposure to the elements, and the confusion of being suddenly alone. Every minute of Anna’s narration is heartbreaking. As a secondary school librarian, I hope the teens who pick up The Bear won’t be turned off by the narrative voice, and won’t be scared to ever go camping again. There are many issues to explore about wilderness, survival, bears and PTSD so I’m hoping the book will open avenues to inquiry. There is nothing explicitly horrific that I fear censorship on, only that the power of the imagination leads the reader to a dangerous place of what could be around the next corner for Anna with every turn of the page. Having said that I devoured it in 48 hours of my busy life, so I’m hoping teens will have the same reaction.
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Thank you very much for reading my book, The Bear. I really appreciate the time and attention you gave it.
One of the best things about writing The Bear has been the number of teens that have read it. The first time a 12 year old came to one of my readings, I worried that I would scare him and talked to his mother first. She assured me that the novel is more optimistic than many of the books her son had read, like the dystopian fiction that is so popular.
Since then I’ve had the good fortune to have many conversations with teens who have read The Bear. I’ve found that they get quite different things from it. For example, how a reader relates to the voice of Anna (the five year old narrator). The adults that I’ve talked to tend to read over Anna’s shoulder. They look into the gap between what Anna thinks is happening and what they anticipate happening. They second guess her the whole way through (me too!).
From those I’ve met, the teens related more directly to Anna. They read the novel as a survival story and follow along with her adventure. They wonder if they would make the same choices. They relate to Anna’s annoyance with her little brother, for example, rather than worry ahead about how her irritation will transfer into the level of care she gives him.
To me, The Bear is ultimately hopeful. It’s about family love, survival of the spirit and how getting through hard things can make you stronger–or, I hope those are some of the things that we might discuss when I visit the schools.
Thanks again for giving it a read. I look forward to continuing the conversation and I hope we’ll meet when I visit in May.
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Thank you for responding, Claire! I’m really looking forward to meeting you and I’m sure that the students will be delighted to pepper you with questions.