Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: The Summer of the Bear

The Summer of the BearThe Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bella Pollen's novel set primarily on an island in The Hebrides during the Cold War era has many qualities that would have made me avoid it if someone had pitched it to me as something I must read. I don't tend to go for historical fiction. Novels from multiple points of view with, possibly, unreliable narrators also don't tend to rank high on my list. However, without giving the story away, I must mention that for this book, Pollen's choices make perfect sense, so even if you're literary "turn offs" are similar to mine, give this a try.

So, here's what happens: British Diplomat Nicholas "Nicky" Fleming falls from the roof of the British Embassy while posted in Bonn, Germany leaving his wife and three children in emotional turmoil. Leticia, his wife, has no idea how to go discuss his death with her children, and ends up leaving the bulk of the parenting and explaining to her daughters: Georgie, 17, and Alba, 15. So, her son, Jamie, who is about 8 and easily confused to begin with, gets bits and pieces of information about what happened to his dad. Out of the three children, Jamie is the oddest. He lags behind his peers in school because it is hard for him to read and write, but he has a rich imagination and tends to be the emotional barometer for his family. Alba takes a more abrasive and pragmatic approach to life, and often feels like she despises her little brother for having his head in the clouds all the time, and being another unpredictable person for her to keep track of as a result. Georgie tries her best to keep the peace between Alba and Jamie, but she's also worried about her mother, and she's worried about what would happen if anyone discovers the whole truth about her father.

The Summer of the Bear is part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, as well as a piece on grief and acceptance. The characters are so well developed that I found it impossible to hate any of them even though Leticia objectively is an inattentive mother who drags her children to a house in the middle of nowhere to wallow in her grief.

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