Monday, March 30, 2015
I just finished an excellent MG debut the other day. Surviving Bear Island is Alaska author Paul Greci's debut novel. Before I get to my reaction, here is the summary from Goodreads:
Could You Survive? After a sea kayaking trip with his father takes a dangerous turn, Tom Parker is stranded on the remote, outer coast of unpopulated Bear Island in the waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska. With only a small survival kit in his pocket, Tom finds himself soaked and freezing, and worst of all - alone. Desperate to find his father, Tom doesn't know how long he can survive and must put his survival skills to the test as he fights to reach safety. Will Tom make it through this wilderness full of bears and other dangers? Tom's story will have readers on the edge of their seats as they journey with him over the rough terrain of Alaska. They will absorb facts about survival as they watch Tom struggle to make things work, discovering Alaska from a first-person point of view. On another level, this story shows the sometimes fragile relationship between parents and children and how we can draw on what our parents have taught us in times of need. It also shows the courage and will to survive of a boy in dire circumstances and the triumph of never giving up.
Full disclosure: Paul Greci is a friend of mine, and one of my co-authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem, and I received a print ARC of this novel from him, with no obligation to review. I'm reviewing it because I enjoyed it, and I think other readers would as well.
So, what I really enjoyed most about this book was its authenticity. I've never been to Alaska, but I have been solo camping, and I have lived in the wilderness and out of a backpack for six weeks, and I have started fires with the metal match method (flint and magnesium shavings) and the bowdrill method (this is so difficult I'm relatively certain they were just messing with us), so I know a little bit about what Tom went through, and I must say that the story felt completely genuine at all times to me.
Tom endures extremely difficult conditions and circumstances, and though of course he suffers through his trauma with the occasionally poor judgment and lack of experience that most children his age would, he manages to find the determination in his will to live to survive. The story is sad, and at times stressful, but ultimately it left me feeling hopeful, and with a renewed sense of appreciation for the passion it takes to truly feel alive.
Greci also pulls off quite a feat in this story in that in 95% of the book, Tom is all alone, with no one to talk to, and therefore no dialog to carry the pacing or vary the story structure, and yet he kept me interested from page to page, weaving a tale that was rife with tension and although it didn't move at breakneck pace, never seemed to slow down enough to give me a chance to breathe.
This worked out well, making Surviving Bear Island a quick and enjoyable read, and one that will remain in my mind for some time, both for what it pulled off in the sense of dramatic structure, and for being an impressive MG debut from an author I will be putting on my to be watched list.
I would recommend this one for readers 10 and up, and especially for boys who might be reluctant to make the jump to novel length works.
In exciting news, Surviving Bear Island's publisher, Move Books, has agreed to give away one copy of the novel to one reader of this post. All you have to do is leave a comment stating that you (or someone you know like a child or friend) are interested in reading this book. Please also be sure the account you comment with is linked to an email address so that the publisher can contact you for your mailing address. You have until 6 AM, Wednesday morning, the first of April, to comment.