The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen – unbearable?

Miss Barry’s Book Review: 2 out of 5 cupcakes

A much needed, emphatic round of applause please.  I will even accept a congenial British pat on the back.  Not to close though, don’t go all American on me.  I finally finished reading The Summer of the Bear written by Bella Pollen.  Only a mere three weeks AFTER my book group met to discuss the book.  I celebrated by devouring a much needed Galaxy chocolate bar after all that exhausting mental work.

It took me over a month to finish The Summer of the Bear… If I like a book, I will immediately curl up in my bed, wrap the covers around me, peak my head out and read through the night, ignoring the numbers that rapidly change on the clock’s face beside me.  Until, with red eyes and a migraine forming, I triumphantly turn the last page.  I can’t abide going to bed without knowing the ending of a good book.

Borrowing a copy of The Summer of the Bear from a fellow book clubber, I looked at the pretty and peaceful, blue and tan cover featuring a boy playfully pushing a tire along the beach with a stunning sunset in the background and thought perfect, lovely coming of age story on a beachy, British island.  I pushed myself through the first few pages.  By page 15, it was clear this book was not going to be an enjoyable read for me, but I had to finish the book for book club!  The same storyline droned on and on.. and on…. “Ok, please get to the point Bella Pollen!” I yelled to no one in particular.  I needed something, anything to happen!  I would read one page, my eyes would then glaze over, another cup of tea would be made, only to come back and read a few more sentences to make an excuse to check my email again….I brought the book with me everywhere, but it just sat there unopened and unread.

Finally, on page 188, three and a half weeks later, the book suddenly and miraculously shifted and became, can you believe it, a pleasurable read and I even cried at the end of the book! (I am a softie though.)

I would recommend this book with the following recommendations:

  1. Skim or skip the first pages of the book until your reach page 188 and then sit back and enjoy a fantastic and emotional read.
  2. Read the book backward from the end of the book to the beginning.  Only then will you be able to stand the emotional turmoil of all the characters and rehashing about what happened to Nicky Flemming…

Brief Book Overview:

The Summer of the Bear is written from the perspective of three family members who experience a tragic and sudden loss of their father, British diplomat, Nicky Flemming.  The book begins with the family living abroad in Cold War Germany during the 1980s.   Suspicions quickly arise about the nature of Nicky’s death.  The book chronicles each family member’s reaction to Nicky’s death and the disturbing question of whether his death was an accident, murder or suicide.   Various memories of Nicky with each family member fade in and out of the book.  While the Government investigates Nicky’s death, the family quickly leaves Germany and relocates to a secluded Scottish Island where they confront their grief in different ways.

Another perspective that is introduced and interspersed throughout the book is that of a bear.  The symbol of the bear seems to play a pivotal role in the book.  The perspective of the bear, however, was not necessary and felt distracting.  The title of the book The Summer of the Bear suggests that the book will focus on the moment in the book when an escaped bear is living on the Scottish Island that the Flemming’s have relocated to.  Pollen, however, hardly even focuses on this event until the end of the book.  Perhaps she could have left this part out and chose a different title?

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Please let me know your thoughts. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcome!

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