THE BEAR is an emotional heavy-hitter, if you can push through two-hundred pages of narrative told in the voice of a five-year-old. It is hard reading, but the payoff may be worth it. Your call.
Here’s a sample: “No one comes and all the parents are mad and gone away and I am not supposed to scream except for an emergency and it is because the canoe is pushing away from the stick turtle so I grab it back.” That’s one sentence. The rest of them are pretty much the same: all two-hundred pages of them. The epilogue takes place twenty years later, which features commas and sentence breaks in all the right places (personally, my preference would be for the whole novel to be told in the older-kid narrative). My brain was fizzling, probably because I just read June Casagrande’s BEST PUNCTUATION BOOK, PERIOD. It hurt. It really, really hurt.
Actually, I think the larger problem is the book sounded like an adult trying to sound like a five-year-old, not like an actual five-year-old telling the story. I read Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD that had no commas and run-on sentences, and that was a great book. THE BEAR has that same artistic feel, but without the authenticity. A few words come off without hitch, like “Mrs. Buchanan”, “language”, “headlock”, and “squatting”, which could be believable for this age, but combined with an adult-like sentence structuring—it just didn’t appear real. But maybe that’s just me.
The first few chapters feature the bear attack, followed by a few chapters of hiding in “the Coleman”. Two of those chapters feature poopy, with more talk of a “pooey bum” after a couple more chapters of being in a canoe. If you are willing to drop skepticism, this story is well thought out, which is really an added component based upon a true bear-attack story. The child’s imagination paints some beautiful dream sequences of dolphins and a beaver, and the trip home represents a movie-like tale. But it’s work to get through.
At the end of the day, I think the work wasn’t worth the reward. Some readers will be gripped by the writing; I wasn’t. For now, I’ll stick with MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN for my children’s wilderness experience book of choice.