Bearwalker by Joseph Bruchac
This is a middle-grade novel about a boy named Baron whose Native American roots have left him fascinated with bears. The story is told through Baron’s journal as he goes on a camping trip with his class. The trip quickly turns into a nightmare as elements of the Native American bear legend—a man who is part human, part bear, and all monster—come to life. Baron has to solve the human side of the mystery with the adults of the camp while escaping into the wilderness to solve the metaphysical side of the mystery himself. He keeps in mind the advice of his parents, both soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan (his father is missing there), as well as the advice of his grandmother, with whom he now lives.
I enjoyed the first person perspective: for a middle-grade reader, this would make Baron’s character easy to relate to. Baron faces much adversity in his life, but he never complains about it or dwells on it. He simply makes the best of what he has. He would be a good role model for a young reader. It also helps that Baron has a good vocabulary and a mature perspective relative to some of his friends!
The pace of the story ensured I kept turning the pages. The use of first-person point of view meant that Baron never dwelled too long on any one topic. His goal in writing the journal was simply to tell the story, so I felt like my time was never being wasted. At the same time, there were parts where I would have wanted more details, though the first-person point of view did not allow this. While the survival elements were not written with as much depth as my favorite Gary Paulsen pieces, I did enjoy the blend of a dark mystery, Native American legend, and a survival story.