The Bear by Claire Cameron, 217 pages
review copy from Random House Canada
This book will inevitably be compared to Room by Emma Donaghue because of the narrator, but the books really aren't that similar. This is more of a survival story, but oh so heart-breaking. But there is also a little humor.
Twenty years ago, a couple were camping in Algonquin Park in Ontario, and were attacked and killed by a bear. Claire Cameron worked in the park around that time, and has written a novel based on that event, but imagining if the couple had had children. What if a five and two year old survived the attack and had to get off the island?
Anna narrates the story as she tries to be a good girl and get off the island with her brother. Her view of things, and voice, as she tries to deal with her situation as only a five year old can, are right on. Her misunderstandings and attempts to rationalize and care for her brother are heart-breaking. Watching children make sense of their world around them was something I really enjoyed with my children, and Cameron gets the voice perfect. Anna is conflicted between trying to follow the rules (supposed to wear shoes when camping), but knowing that she has to try to save her little brother.
It sounds so tragic, and it is, yet it is a book I am telling my friends about and passing along to colleagues. There is such a great mix of suspense and tension, and lightheartedness because five year olds can't really do stress - they make sense of things within their reality. So, Anna doesn't see a bear, she sees a black dog who can stand because she knows a black dog named Snoopy. So it was Snoopy who was sniffing at her because that's what Snoopy does. The length of the book is just perfect as well, because there is only so much bad stuff you can read about kids, and Cameron knew how much. It's a hard book to put down, and I imagine most people will read this in one sitting. You might want a box of kleenex near you before you start.