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Nancy Friedland

The start of Claire Cameron’s The Bear is not for the faint of heart: On an idyllic family camping trip, 5-year-old Anna awakes to the sounds of her parents’ screaming. The reason? They’re being mauled to death by a 300-pound black bear.

Miraculously, Anna and her 2-year-old brother manage to hide inside a metal cooler until the bear retreats, leaving them stuck on a remote island with no humans in sight.

Much like Emma Donoghue’s 2010 Room, The Bear is written for adults but told from a child’s perspective. And as a result, the language is simple and choppy (“Mummy screams. Mostly not ever. Except Sometimes.”) yet emotionally raw and deftly astute. (Anna comes to realize deep truths about her parents’ marriage, not to mention her own mortality.)

Also like Room, you’ll probably find yourself reading this amazing survival story well into the night. Will Anna figure out how to get the canoe across the river? And how will she keep a 2-year-old alive in the face of thirst, poison ivy and, you know, man-eating bears?

But even as Cameron details the stuff of childhood nightmares, her dedication to Anna’s interiority is moving and uplifting. Kids are inspiring creatures, Anna would lead us to believe. In the face of horror, they can work miracles.

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