The Bear by Claire Cameron
Read by Cassandra Morris
Finished on March 8, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
This is the story of a small narrator with a very big heart.
While camping with her family on a remote island, five-year-old Anna wakes in the night to the sound of screaming. A wild black bear is attacking the family’s campsite—and pouncing on her parents as prey.
Anna’s wounded mother pleads for the children to get into the family’s canoe and paddle away. But once they escape, the sister and brother end up lost and alone in the woods, battling hunger, the elements, and a wilderness alive with danger. Their only hope resides in Anna’s heartbreaking love for her family, as she struggles to be brave when nothing in her world seems safe anymore.
Told in the innocent voice of a child, The Bear is a transporting tale—one of love, loss, and the raw instincts that enable us to survive.
The Bear is based on the author’s memories of, and research into, a true story. She added the kids. From the Author’s Note:
In October of 1991, Raymond Jakubauskas and Carola Frehe pitched their tent on Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park, nearly three thousand square miles of wilderness situated two hundred miles northeast of Toronto. The couple had planned to camp for a three-day weekend. When they failed to return on Monday, friends contacted the police. The partially eaten remains of Jakubauskas and Frehe were found on Wednesday. A large male black bear was standing guard over the prey.Not since Emma Donoghue’s Room (click on the link for my review) has a child’s voice been captured so beautifully. This is a heartbreaking story, but I was able to listen to the audio production since I knew the actual events did not include any children. The book opens with the attack, told from Anna’s point of view, and it is so incredibly suspenseful! I think I might have held my breath during the entire opening chapter. Cassandra Morris is an excellent reader and I quickly forgot that she was an adult reading a book and not a child recounting a real event. Anna’s innocent point-of-view, as well as that of her younger brother, is so convincing and consistent. From the Reading Group Guide:
The syntax of some of your sentences are so great. “I open my mouth and she turns the spoon and it goes plop and there is a bit of Tang but then it goes wiggle wiggle and oh yuck that’s weird and my tongue says no thanks and tssssuffff I spit.” Are sentences like these based on real five-year-olds’ dialogue?
Yes. My son was five when I started writing. We had many conversations, and I taped a few of his rants to get the rhythm. But it didn’t take all that much research. He was going through a very chatty stage, so I had his speech patterns pretty much seared into my brain. As I wrote, Anna separated from him and became her own character, but quite a few of the funnier lines are directly from his mouth.
Yes, there is humor in this book. I seriously doubt anyone could read such a tragic novel without a few chuckles added here and there.
I’ve written about camping (here and here) with my family, both as a child and as a parent, and my fear of bears is very strong. My husband and I are planning to buy a small trailer in a few years and we’ve been doing some research on bear prevention. After reading this book, I may opt for parking at Walmart! ;)
Do you know the difference between a grizzly bear and an American black bear? Take a look at this informative video about bear safety.
While The Bear tugged heavily at my heartstrings, bringing tears to my eyes, it also made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. I loved listening to this audio (Cassandra Morris is superb!) and I’m fairly sure that I wouldn’t have appreciated the book half as much had I read the print version. Just hearing the youthful voice of Morris, with her interpretation of the intense emotion of both children, put me right along beside them in the canoe and woods. Highly recommend!