Mimi Thebo is another member of our illustrious writing group. She has written both adult and children’s fiction and is a senior lecturer in creative studies at Bath Spa University. Dreaming the Bear is a novel for older children set in Yellowstone National Park. Mimi Thebo, who hails originally from Kansas, spent several summers in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and her descriptions of it have great reality.
Darcy, the main narrator of Dreaming the Bear, is a bored early teen who is uprooted from her school, her friends and her urban life when her father takes on a research job at Yellowstone. Darcy and her older brother Jem are living with their father in a cabin on the edge of the park; their mother is still in England. It’s the middle of winter with thick snow everywhere, and Darcy is recovering from pneumonia. She can’t go to school and has to walk every day to build up her strength. On one of her walks she climbs higher than she can manage and, exhausted, falls down near a cave where there is a female grizzly bear. To her surprise, the bear takes care of her. Darcy goes back to the cave and despite bear safety protocols begins to develop a close bond with the bear, who has been shot and wounded in the shoulder.
When the family is snowed in, Darcy becomes ill again. She and Tony Infante, the son of a neighbour, start to develop a friendship but she doesn’t tell him or anyone else about the bear. She recovers and when the weather starts to thaw she begins to worry about the bear, who should now be out foraging for food but is handicapped by the injury. Darcy secretly stockpiles food for the bear and takes it up to the cave, avoiding discovery for as long as she can. Eventually, still often unwell, she gets her brother to help her, but she knows that sooner or later the bear will come down from the mountain to scavenge in the town.
The book pivots around Darcy’s relationship with the bear and their close connection. Parts of it are written from the bear’s point of view, and at times when Darcy is seriously ill and out of her body she connects deeply with the bear. Through Darcy’s involvement with the bear Mimi Thebo shows us, touchingly and affectionately, how her human relationships begin to grow, especially that with her father. Her teen romance is handled with a light touch and we see her closeness to her brother. By the time her mother arrives at the end of the book, she has discovered the cause of her recurring illness and found the strength within herself to deal with a tough situation.
The book is far from all sweetness and light and will have great appeal for young teens who are on the brink of stepping into a more adult world. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, even though it’s a long time since I was a teenager!