Review: The Bear

The Bear
The Bear by Claire Cameron
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

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.

This is a either-or type of book. Some people really love it; be sure to check out the other reviews on Amazon: The Bear: A Novel


6 thoughts on “Review: The Bear

  1. Ti

    Another instance where the child sounded like an adult, trying to be a child, was the kid from Room. I could not wrap my brain around that book for that very reason.

    1. ryandejonghe Post author

      I may have to check that one out for comparison sake. I think it is hard for the same reason writing children’s books isn’t as easy as it seems. To stuff an adult mind in the basic, natural child’s mind is difficult: both to write and to read. Blessed are the ones that can pull it off successfully.

  2. Silvia

    Nice review. I definitely have to read this book you often suggest, “The Puctuation Book”! 🙂
    I appreciated “The Road” as well. Beautifully written. When it was published for the first time fifteen years ago, I read “The God of small things” by Arundhaty Roy. I remember that novel as the perfect story narrated by a kid. And recently I’ve loved Joyce Carol Oates “My sister, my love”, even if the narrator wasn’t so young.

    1. ryandejonghe Post author

      The Punctuation Book is a great desk reference; I’ve pulled it off the shelf many times to see how something should be written out. Thanks for the recommendations: I’ll have to check those out. I’ve heard great thigns about Oates especially.

  3. Gillian Cartier Hollett

    Really? I was looking forward to this one!

    And ROOM is one of my favourites. I thought Donoghue did a great job, though I would have pegged Jack at 4 for his understanding of the world.

    I have a 6 year old and a 5 year old so I want to see if The Bear rings true to my kids views!

    1. ryandejonghe Post author

      Please let me know what you think of the book. I may have just been in one of my grumpy moods. My kids are 7 and 8; my Scouts and Sunday school class the same. I’ve heard good things about ROOM and Little, Brown usually releases top-notch work…so, yeah, it was probably me being grumpy.


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