this was the perfect book to read directly after Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, which had a huge chapter about death by bears in yellowstone and how to (hopefully) avoid being killed by them. in the author’s note of the bear, cameron says that her inspiration for this novel was the true story of raymond jakubauskas and carola frehe, who were killed by a bear on Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park, nearly three thousand miles of wilderness situated two hundred fifty miles northeast of Toronto. there was no explanation for the attack; they did all the things that Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park book recommended you do to avoid bear-interest, and yet, they were still attacked and devoured.
cameron takes their story and adds two children into the mix: anna, aged 5 and “stick,” aged 2. forced to listen to her parents get attacked by a giant black bear without really understanding what is happening, anna emerges from the cooler where she and her brother were stashed at the beginning of the attack and stumbles upon her dying mother who begs anna to take her brother, get into the canoe, and get off the island, to “wait for them” on the mainland.
after some confused resistance, she does just that, and they make it across the water and wait on the opposite shore, through hunger and heat and mosquitoes as anna tries to keep stick from wandering off, entertaining him and waiting for an adult to come and tell them what to do next.
the story is entirely narrated by 5-year-old anna, so it is not a cohesive, linear narrative. it is more stream-of-consciousness writing, with all anna’s confusion about her situation, and a focus on the inconsequential details making up the the small, selfish but good-intentioned perspective of a little girl. she both loves and resents her younger brother, and tries to keep her eye on him and keep him out of trouble, but she is easily frustrated by the grown-up burdens she is not old enough to assume.
i personally loved the voice. it seems to me to be a very realistic depiction of what a child would be thinking in the midst of a tragedy she doesn’t quite comprehend. she keeps waiting for her parents to come to her rescue, stumbling into and narrowly avoiding other dangers unknowingly, and the story is a combination of memories of her parents and their relationship (another thing she only half-understands) and her frustration with her more immediate surroundings.
it is occasionally funny, sometimes sad, and pretty tense, because the reader knows more than anna, and so knows that there is more to fear than she herself realizes. i liked the narrow focus, anna’s fixation on the barbie dolls her mother will not let her have, her quick-change love-hate of her brother, the unusual connections she makes and the way she expresses these thoughts.
kids in peril always makes good reading for me, and this is one of the better ones i have read. someday, you can read it, too!!