The Bear, by Claire Cameron; © 2014, Doubleday Canada
Shortly on the heels of finishing All the Broken Things, I was given another book that featured a bear, this one written by Claire Cameron. Where Kuitenbrouwer's book depicted an appealing beast that you couldn't help feel for, Cameron's black bear was anything but. Her animal was wild and extremely dangerous, and the start of a terrifying ordeal for two young children.
Five-year-old Anna is on a camping trip with her Mom, Dad and little brother Alex, affectionately known as Stick. Things have been difficult in her parent's relationship as of late, but a late-summer portage trip seemed just the thing to smooth over troubled waters. That is until an overnight stop at a small island leads to tragedy. A black bear sniffs them out and attacks, but not before Daddy stuffs little Anna and two-year-old Stick into a Coleman cooler for protection.
While Coleman saves Anna and Stick from the bear's deadly claws, they can't stay in the metal box forever. And once Anna kicks them to freedom, the next step is more than any five-year-old can fathom, that of making their way to safety in the wilds of Algonquin Park alone. With nothing more than a box of cookies and the dying words of her mother to give her direction, Anna must take responsibility for Stick and their lives. Their canoe gets them off the island and away from the bear, but where to go next is beyond little Anna. How to survive is another matter entirely.
Written in a first-person narrative, the reader travels along with the children as they struggle to find shelter, food and a way out of the wilderness, with the meagre skills that their youth allows. The choices they make are terrifying for an adult, let alone for two children with no experience in how to take care of themselves. Cameron masterfully sets you on edge though, as you internally scream at the children to not touch this and stay away from that, to no avail. As a parent, I wanted to scoop them up and take charge, soothing the children with promises that it would all be alright. But only Anna had the power to ensure that.
If you like to camp and have a young family, this book might not be for you. It strikes fear into every worst case scenario that parents put themselves through in relation to their children. If you are curious to see how Anna and Stick make out in the wilds of Northern Ontario without an adult to guide them though, then this book is a well-written tale that will have you flipping pages to the end.
That end you will have to read for yourself though...