________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 37. . . .May 28, 2010.


Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots.

Abby McDonald
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada), 2010.
293 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
ISBN 978-0-7636-4382-9.

Subject Headings:
Wilderness areas-Fiction.
Social action-Fiction.

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 wasn’t on the list; you don’t 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 can’t help but panic. Suppose I can’t get over that embarrassing first impression? Am I doomed to spend the rest of the summer alone, with nothing but Fiona’s bitchy comments for company?

In a desperate attempt to save herself from her grandmother’s 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 didn’t 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 Jenna’s all-consuming environmentalism with the experiences of young people in a former sawmill town. Perspective provides enlightenment for Jenna as she weathers her new roommate’s difficulties adjusting to a blended family; and a new friend’s 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 Man’s Survival Guide in her pile of tattered romance novels from Stillwater’s second hand bookstore, Jenna discovers that some of life’s most important lessons come from the least likely places. The guide’s 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 author’s crotchety wilderness advice. Through her survival guide and explorations with her new local friends, Jenna meets and interacts with this story’s 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 “Canadian contingent” 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.

Highly Recommended.

Beth Maddigan is a children’s librarian and lecturer in St. John’s, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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