Buckle up. This is going to be the longest post on record.
We were sent an ARC of THE SUMMER OF THE BEAR by Bella Pollen and I was instantly intrigued. The title caught my attention and when I did further research, I learned that the story was inspired by Bella's own experience in Scotland's remote Outer Hebrides islands growing up. I'm a total sucker for a true-life-inspired novel and if I know you like I think I know you, you will be too.
What the back cover has to say:
With her fifth novel, critically acclaimed writer and journalist Bella Pollen takes readers into the private dynamics of a family grappling with the loss of father and husband in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, where between elemental beauty and utter bleakness, strange forces are at play.
In 1980 Germany, under Cold War tension, a mole is suspected in the British Embassy. When the clever diplomat Nicky Fleming dies suddenly and suspiciously, it’s convenient to brand him the traitor. But was his death an accident, murder, or suicide? As the government digs into Nicky’s history, his wife, Letty, relocates with her three children to a remote Scottish island hoping to salvage their family. But the isolated shores of her childhood retreat only intensify their distance, and it is Letty’s brilliant and peculiar youngest child, Jamie, who alone holds on to the one thing he’s sure of: his father has promised to return and he was a man who never broke a promise.
Exploring the island, Jamie and his teenaged sisters discover that a domesticated brown bear has been marooned on shore, hiding somewhere among the seaside caves. Jamie feels that the bear may have a strange connection to his father, and as he seeks the truth, his father’s story surfaces in unexpected ways. Bella Pollen has an uncanny ability to capture the unnoticeable moments in which families grow quiet. A novel about the corrosive effects of secrets and the extraordinary imagination of youth, The Summer of the Bear is Pollen’s most ambitious and affecting book yet.
What Lila has to say:I KNOW I've said this about other books, but I'm going to say it again about this one. This book is like nothing I've ever read before. First of all, there's a bear in the main storyline. That is in and of itself unique. But to consider that this novel is based on actual events that occured in the summer of 1980 was really fascinating to me. Bella Pollen tells this story from multiple perspectives, which I have a total soft-spot for. Even better, all of the perspectives are incredibly unique and voiced to a tee--Pollen is basically a character-genius.
Georgie is the eldest daughter and after the sudden/tragic/mysterious death of her father is trying to navigate the aftermath--a new home, a new mother who has shut herself out and a new adult-like perspective. There's also a level of mystery with her storyline because she once traveled to East Germany with her father during the Cold War and the government is investigating this trip closely after his apparent suicide. The reader is left to wonder if Georgie has the missing piece. Then there's Alba, the middle child, who is instantly unlikeable as her evil streak leads her to treat her younger brother with vicious contempt. But you have to sympathize with her because Alba is on the brink of puberty and is left to fend for herself as her mom is basically out of commision as the result of her overwhelming grief. And then there's Jamie, who has special needs but an entirely different, almost genius-level outlook and perspective. The entire family has kept their father's death somewhat of a secret from Jamie to protect him so he's left searching for his lost father as opposed to mourning. We're also offered Letty's perspective as she sifts through the clues surrounding her husband's death and tries to make sense of who her husband really was. AND the bear. Yes, it sounds strange to read snippets from a bear, but it completely works. The bear was raised basically as a human and after its escape, struggled to survive as it never embraced its wild instincts or had forgotten them altogether. Pollen toys with the idea of a hyper-humanized bear and offers the reader snippets into what this could look like. The result is magical and not in the least bit cheesy.
Whew. That's a lot of character. And I didn't even mention the quirky islanders who are peppered into the storyline and add to the mystique of the story. Because they're awesome. And they bring you straight to these remote Scottish islands and plug you right in. Like I said before, character-genius.
At its core, this story is a coming-of-age/coming-to-terms novel about the breakdown of communication. The Cold War was famous for this and is in the backdrop, but we see the major effects that a lack of communication has on the family itself. Everyone is struggling to understand what happened to their beloved father/husband. But in the meantime, they've forgotten how to understand one another. It's one of the more intricate books I've read in a while and I thoroughly enjoyed being thrown into this unique setting with these people who wanted nothing more than to grow. Highly recommend!
Elana Johnson POSSESSION Launch Festival of Awesome! Today, go to Jamie Harrington's site and comment to enter to win a signed copy of POSSESSION and learn the secret time that you need to use the Twitter hashtag #taggedPOSSESSION to win another signed copy of POSSESSION!
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