Five-year-old Anna awakes in her tent to the confusing sound of some sort of commotion at her family’s remote campsite. Moments later her father grabs her and her three-year-old brother and deposits them in the large metal Coleman cooler. Hours later, the children manage to escape. Fatally wounded by a bear attack, Anna’s mother says she and her brother, nicknamed “Stick”, must get into the canoe and paddle out into the lake and wait.
So begins The Bear, a heartbreaking tale of survival told through the eyes of a child. It makes her so mad that Stick can’t do anything and only wants to eat cookies, but Anna will be a good girl and watch him, even if Momma says she isn’t old enough to babysit really. As Anna wonders when her parents are coming, she thinks back and readers get a glimpse of their family life, including a child’s interpretation of the difficulties of marriage.
The sort-of stream of consciousness writing from Anna’s point of view takes a bit of getting used to, but enriches the story in a very satisfying way. Cameron’s depiction of a young child’s trust and dependence on the adults in her life is skillfully rendered, as is Anna’s way of coping with events that she is unable or unwilling to process. A moving and hopeful epilogue closes the story. If you enjoyed Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon or Room by Emma Donoghue, give this one a try.