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I bought myself a copy of Claire Cameron’s The Bear as a Valentine’s present to myself. Yeah, maybe not mushy-gushy…at least not in terms of sentiments. But it sounded like a great survivalist story with a gory beginning (and possibly little “literary” content), so why not give myself the gift of reading whatever I want?

The story is about a young family who goes camping on a remote island near Vancouver, only to have a rogue black bear attack during the night, sending the camp into chaos. The children, five-year-old Anna and two-year-old “Stick”, miraculously survive the attack by the “big black dog”, though Anna isn’t quite sure why her parents are missing or what they’re to do.

Despite the sensational plotline, there was very little shock value to the story since it was told from Anna’s point-of-view. The way I had to puzzle through Anna’s thought process and figure out what she meant was a neat device, and lent additional meaning to things such as when you figured out that she was afraid her dad was so mad he had gone away again meant her parents had separated for awhile, and the camping trip was their attempt to reconcile.

The story turned more into a peek of a five-year-old’s view on the meaning of family and togetherness and “doing the right thing” than it was a tale of survivalism (though there was still some of that). It kept me interested, though the story seemed incredibly short. I would have enjoyed balancing Anna’s pov with a third-person omniscient to flesh out the adventure and really tell a fuller story. I certainly connected with Anna, and to a degree her mom, but I would have enjoyed bonding with their dad and exploring the separation, his ultimately sacrificing himself to save the kids…I can appreciate the idea of exploring the event through Anna’s perspective, but what a wealth of drama was left on the table!

So, yes, I enjoyed the story. I liked that I was expecting a sensationalistic tale absent of nearly all literary merit and instead had my expectations flipped on their head. Anna’s voice was very well done, laying a feeling of peace and beauty over an incredibly sad and ugly incident. I wanted to weep for the kids to have witnessed such an event and not being able to properly communicate with the grown-ups the feelings and thoughts they needed to express. But even so, I thought The Bear fell short of what it could have been. So it only gets 3 of 5 stars.

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