Published: 18th February 2021
Everyone is talking about this upcoming release. The cover is stunning and Michael Morpurgo has labelled it 'unforgettable'. Therefore, when a review copy was posted on Netgalley, I clicked to request it without a second thought.
I'm so glad I did. In three words this book is raw, wild and all about connection; connection with the planet, with the elements and April's connection with her majestic Bear.
When April's father lands a job recording temperatures on Bear Island, the pair travel north for a solitary six months in a snowy wilderness. With the ice-caps around the island having melted, polar bears can no longer reach it and the island is practically deserted.
But April is certain there is one polar bear still living on the island...and when she is proved right, her life changes forever. Never before has she experienced such depth of friendship. With Bear stranded and struggling to survive, can April find a solution to save him before she has to say goodbye?
This is exactly the type of book I have been hoping to share with my seven-year-old reluctant reader. Despite it's icy setting, this story will warm the cockles of your heart as well as filling it with sorrow. The poignant themes of loss and grief-something both April and Bear have experienced-are beautifully woven into the story and Hannah Gold explores them with depth and sensitivity. As much as I loved April's deep connection with Bear-which is a two-hander for most of the story-I also loved the exploration of April's difficult relationship with her father. April's dad is flawed through pain and grief and his realisation of how he has neglected his daughter is truly moving.
The character of Bear is simply glorious. Sadly, his story carries a grim ecological message to humankind and yet Gold writes it in a way that is raw and impactful but not didactic. She captures the beauty of our planet with awe-inspiring descriptions that capture the true power of nature. The writing is sensory and you can literally smell the ice and snow of Bear Island, the freezing salt of the sea and the wilderness of the mountains. I also adored all the descriptions of the food. Yum!
For a story with few characters and with many scenes featuring just April and Bear, the plot felt pacey, fresh and compelling. The story didn't end as I predicted but instead rose to a shocking and daring climax that literally had me gasping in shock. April is a wonderful protagonist; determined and strong-minded with a heart of gold and you root for her and her cause more and more with every page-turn.
The Last Bear is a magnificent fictional story grounded in fact and truth. It carries a moving and inspirational message that every reader, young and old, will benefit from reading. However, for our next generation this story is vital. It has a heart as big as April's and Bear's and it would be wonderful to see it being used widely by teachers in the school curriculum.
The Last Bear is available to pre-order from online bookshops and will be released on 18th February 2021. A big thankyou to HarperCollins and Netgalley for granting me a review copy.