Darcy is a teenager struggling to recover from pneumonia and has been advised by a doctor to spend two to four hours outside every day. But this is no ordinary outside. Once it would have been the city streets and shopping malls of London that Darcy loves so much (but she reasons that she wouldn’t have caught pneumonia anyway if she’d stayed where she belonged).
This outside is 7,000 feet above sea level, in the winter wilds of Yellowstone National Park, US, full of hibernating bears. This is where her father has taken a new job and moved his family from England.
Everybody else fits in well into this new habitat. Only Darcy is weak, helpless and unsettled. Just like the bear she meets when she walks too far one day. Darcy stumbles across its cave, soaked to the skin from a fall, and this bear saves her life by keeping her warm. Now the narrative switches between Darcy and the bear, who has been wounded and her cubs killed. The line between reality and dream is blurred.
Darcy is drawn again and again to visit the bear.
“The bear raises her arm, and I am the little cold creature that crawls into its warmth. Together we dive down into a dream world.”
The tension of this story is heightened by a severe snow storm, lasting six days, during which Darcy falls in love with Tony, her brother’s friend, who has to take shelter with them.
At first, knowing nothing about bears, I expect Darcy and the bear to help each other to get better, because Darcy feeds the injured bear secretly, making long journeys with food, which I thought would be her recuperation.
‘I felt kind of dead,’ Darcy says. ‘She made me feel more alive.’
Darcy (and me) soon learns her mistake. Tony and her family are furious when they find out what she has been doing. An injured bear in the park dependent on being fed is a danger to everybody. And Darcy is not feeling any better. The ending is both poignant and practical.
This short novel is beautifully written and contains dream-style as well as third person narrative from the bear’s point of view. Although it is instructive for the reader, it does represent the bear as a creature with feelings.
Mimi Thebo has based this story on a real bear in Yellowstone national Park – Bear 134- and her respect and love for this creature is as strong as her respect for the dilemma in which Darcy finds herself. As Darcy’s problems are resolved, she feels the bear’s strength inside her.
“A girl alone. A wounded bear. A bond to last forever.”
Dreaming the Bear is recommended for the 10+ age group.
Pauline Francis www.paulinefrancis.co.uk
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