CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 37. . . .May 28, 2010.
Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada), 2010.
293 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Beth Maddigan.
My stomach flutters with nerves. Of all the things I was worried about, making friends wasnít on the list; you donít spend every weekend at the mall trying to convince shoppers to reuse and recycle without getting pretty comfortable talking to strangers. But now, seeing just how small this town really is, I canít help but panic. Suppose I canít get over that embarrassing first impression? Am I doomed to spend the rest of the summer alone, with nothing but Fionaís bitchy comments for company?
In a desperate attempt to save herself from her grandmotherís sleepy geriatric community in Florida, 17-year-old Jenna convinces her parents that she should spend the summer with godmother Susie in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia. Jenna is convinced that her role as a leader in the Green Teen movement will be best served spending two months in harmony with evergreen forests, pristine lakes and breathtaking vistas. Her trip to Stillwater gives her the up-close view of nature she was looking for, but also provides her with a perspective on life she didnít know she was missing.
Championing a cause with unbridled enthusiasm is a thread that runs through many works of realistic fiction for teens. In Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots, McDonald tempers Jennaís all-consuming environmentalism with the experiences of young people in a former sawmill town. Perspective provides enlightenment for Jenna as she weathers her new roommateís difficulties adjusting to a blended family; and a new friendís challenges with his gender identity. However, while serious issues provide roots for this summer story, it is the everyday irritations and excitements that make life interesting when you are in high school that bloom: making friends; fitting in; discovering passion; and fighting for time in the bathroom. Thoroughly enjoyable, the measured pace of the plot and attention to detail in the writing are a welcome change from some of the predictable fare that plagues this genre.
Surprising departures and interwoven details help Jenna deepen as a character and allow her relatable humanity to shine. When she accidentally takes home a copy of The Modern Mountain Manís Survival Guide in her pile of tattered romance novels from Stillwaterís second hand bookstore, Jenna discovers that some of lifeís most important lessons come from the least likely places. The guideís author, Jeremiah B. Coombes, has a no-nonsense approach to conquering nature and, while Jenna can never imagine herself setting traps or using a hatchet to make a shelter, she learns some unpredictable lessons through the authorís crotchety wilderness advice. Through her survival guide and explorations with her new local friends, Jenna meets and interacts with this storyís most reliable character: the beauty and fearsome power of nature found in the mountains, lakes and forests of British Columbia. Author Abby McDonald may live in London, England, but her visits with the ďCanadian contingentĒ of her family mentioned in her acknowledgments have obviously provided a lasting impression.
The multi-dimensional characters and easy-reading prose help this novel stand above other similar, but easily forgotten, titles in teen realistic fiction.
Beth Maddigan is a childrenís librarian and lecturer in St. Johnís, NL.
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