I finished Sarah Addison Allen‘s “The Sugar Queen” yesterday, due to a lack of willpower and focus. My job this weekend was to finish reading the other book I was reading concurrently, “The Bear” by Claire Cameron, and which I had actually started first, and review them both… without yet starting another book.
Did I mention that I have little willpower or focus when it comes to books? I started another book before I finished “The Bear.” Raise your hand if you’re completely unsurprised.
I’m not going to tell you what it is, yet, however. I am going to prioritize.
Earlier today, I reviewed “The Sugar Queen.” Now, you’re going to get a review of “The Bear.” At the end, I might tell you what my next book is, or I might keep you guessing.
If you follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, you will likely get a sneak preview of what I’m reading before I review it. That’s just food for thought, as well as shameless self-promotion.
Without further ado (which seems to be something I say often on this blog), here is the review of the hour.
This book broke my heart, over and over again. It will break yours. Read it anyway.
That really could be the entire review, but I’ll continue.
As readers, we have a reasonably good idea of what this book is about just by looking at the cover. If we read the book jacket, all is basically revealed. There is an author’s note describing the real-life event which inspired her fictionalized account.
So, I am not spoiling anything by telling you that this is a story about two small children whose parents are killed in a bear attack while the family is camping on an island in Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada.
Knowing the entire premise does not detract in any way from the experience of the book. The storytelling is the defining feature and crowning glory of this book. The whole event, from start to finish, is told by Anna, the 5-year-old daughter of the bear’s victims.
The narration is flawless. I never doubted her voice. I believed that she was thinking those things, that this little girl would think exactly those things, and do and say everything she did.
Anna’s distracted tangents of thoughts and snippets of daydreams were perfectly timed. Her confusion and limited understanding of the situation were very realistic. I don’t know how Ms. Cameron managed this. It truly seemed like I was inside this young, inexperienced girl’s mind, not that I was reading an adult’s estimation of what a child would be thinking.
Anna’s last directive from her dying mother was to get her brother into their canoe and leave the island for a long canoe ride. Anna trusts her mother completely, and while baffled and quite reluctant, she does her best to follow orders. When their oarless canoe becomes beached on the mainland, the two are forced to continue their quest to find their parents, who they believe are waiting for them somewhere, on foot.
As the situation gets increasingly more dire, Anna remains steadfast. Her drive and determination are rooted in a desperate wish to not have her parents be angry with her.
She cannot comprehend what they expect of her, or where they are, but she uses up every ounce of her remaining strength to keep herself and her toddler brother alive.
She believes fervently that they need to be a family again, and she convinces herself that each agonizing step will bring her further toward her goal of reuniting the four of them. Her head is swimming with a complicated blend of hope, denial, incomprehension, fear, despair, and the overwhelming urge to make things right again and not be blamed for any of this. My heart ached for her.
We already know it’s going to be sad. We know she does not find her parents, because we know she left their bodies behind when she and her brother got in the canoe. That still doesn’t prepare you for the emotional climax of the story.
I rarely cry that hard from reading a book. I normally only cry like that when something terribly sad has actually happened to me, in real life. I wasn’t sobbing, but it was close.
Despite all that heartache, and partially because of it, Ms. Cameron wrapped it all up into something beautiful. It is sweet, it is inspiring, and it is one hundred per cent about love. The very last words of the book are deeply moving.
Expertly crafted, gracefully handled, this is a raw, yet sensitive story about the clash and reconciliation between humans and nature. It is mostly, however, an account of a small girl’s unending love and devotion to her family, against all odds.