The brilliant books in 2021 just keep on coming. Again, this is another book that has been talked about extensively on social media platforms for a number of months. And if everything was to be believed, then Hannah Gold’s debut was going to be something rather special.
As I began reading The Last Bear in the plus thirty five degree heat of Melbourne this afternoon, I could not have been further from the Arctic circle and the polar ice caps. But Gold quickly transported me to a mysterious and unexplored wilderness, a remote location in the middle of the Barents Sea…Bear Island. So named for the polar bears that used to inhabit it, but they have since long gone, the melting of the ice caps has meant the location has become inaccessible. A struggle that is all too real for these wonderful creatures.
The story is that of eleven year old April Wood, an outsider and a bit of an oddball who doesn’t really fit in. April spends her time feeding foxes in the garden and climbing trees to talk to the animas. She shares the same special connection to animals that her mother did before she died several years ago. April only has fragments of memories of her mother and lives with her father with whom her relationship with has become ever more distant as he works long and odd hours at the university and is struggling to mourn the loss of his wife.
When her father is invited to work at a remote island to monitor the weather patterns, April is thrilled at the chance to explore a new place and spend time with her father. She has high hopes that they will be able to reconnect through walks, sledging and exploring. Unfortunately, April’s father quickly becomes lost in his work and is as distant as he has ever been so she finds herself heading off to explore the island by herself. Despite being told by everyone that no polar bears exist on the island, April is convinced that she has seen something on the horizon and she soon finds herself embarking on the most wonderful of adventures.
This is a breath-taking adventure of friendship, love and about making sure your voice is heard. Hannah Gold has written a beautiful and heart-felt narrative that expertly explores and highlights the plight of the polar bear and the melting of the ice caps in the Arctic region and with a wonderful main protagonist readers should all feel empowered to do their bit to help.
Like many children, April is aware of the problems and challenges that the planet faces and she is determined to make a difference. On her Arctic adventure she sees through her own eyes the effects of global warming and climate change and how the actions of humankind are destroying the natural world. So when she finds Bear, she knows that she has to help and return him to a place where he can thrive amongst his own. April and Bear share a special connection and gradually a wonderful relationship is forged over trust, respect, oatcakes and jars of peanut butter. Bear’s isolation and loneliness is replaced by warmth, friendship and a whole lot of love. And for April, she finds the best of friends and someone that she can confide in.
Themes of loss, bravery and courage are all overflowing throughout the narrative and as a reader it is impossible not to be pulled in by the raw emotions that the characters feel. The loud roars of Bear and April to convey their anger, sadness and frustration, and to let out their grief and sorrow that they have kept bottled up inside are particularly powerful.
Unfortunately, my electronic copy was missing the artwork by Levi Pinfold but I will be sure to buy a hard copy as soon as it comes out so I can savour what will no doubt be some stunning visuals.
There is no escaping that global warming and the climate crisis is a very big deal but Hannah Gold, April and Bear roar at the world that we if all do our bit then even the smallest of us can make the biggest difference. An empowering read.
Recommended for 8+.
With thanks to Harper Collins Children's and Hannah Gold for the advanced reader copy that was received via Netgalley. Due for publication on 3rd February 2021.