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Bearwalker by Joseph Bruchac
Review by Gayle Surrette
HarperCollins Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0061123099
Date: 01 July 2007 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Baron Brawn is dealing with a new school, the loss of his father in Afganistan, his mother is stationed in Iraq, he's a Mohawk attending Pioneer Jr. High (oh the irony), and living with his grandmother. Did I mention he's small for his age, the shortest 8th grader, and the newest target for the class bullies? Now, he and 32 other students are going for a weekend retreat to Camp Chuckamuck. Classmates and their teacher Mr. Wilbur expect that he knows a lot about wilderness hiking and camping because of his heritage and Baron just wants to blend in and go unnoticed. Could things get any worse? Well, actually they can when it turns out the camp is under new management and Baron fears that Walker White Bear just might be a Bearwalker.

Baron is obsessed with bears. That may be too strong a term. Since he belongs to the Bear Clan, he feels an affinity for bears. He's read just about every book he could find about bears: biology, history, cultural references, and folk tales. He keeps a small talisman of a bear in his pocket. So that might explain why, when he catches sight of Walker White Bear, the legend of the Bearwalker -- those who wear the skin of the bear to gain power only to be corrupted by that power -- comes to him, sending a shiver down his spine.

I love Bruchac's approach to young adults. He never talks down and he never underestimates their courage and abilities in trying situations. Baron is a typical 8th grader with a thirst for knowledge about the subjects that interest him and a background in paying attention to his environment and to his social surroundings. He's well equipped to recognize the signs of danger even before they rise to the notice of the adults who ignore what doesn't seem important to their immediate concerns.

The story opens with Baron in a life or death struggle to survive the night and get help for his classmates, teachers, chaperones, and the camp workers. Needless to say, there's no putting this down as we flash back on the events leading up to this point and then to the resolution. There are twists and turns aplenty as we find that no one is quite what they seem, or seen as who and what they are or could be. Red herrings, missed opportunities, desires not to upset the mood/person/status quo all gather to cause problems to escalate and keep the reader turning pages to find out what's going to happen next.

These are the kinds of books I loved as a child. Stories where a child could make a difference, not because the adults were dumb or silly, but because the child was the only one who could do the task. The child was the right person, with the right skill set, and the willingness to dare to act when no one else could. Stories where you could see that if you were true to yourself and your dreams, you just might make a difference --

"If you were smart enough, if you just used common sense and the lessons taught you by your elders, you might be able to defeat a monster. Even if you were a little kid." -- pg. 45
And isn't that a wonderfully positive and affirming idea for young people to recognize and internalize as they move on to adulthood.

Excellent for all ages but suggested for those 10 and up.

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