The Last Bear by Hannah Gold is by far my favourite middle grade novel I’ve read this year, and that for a variety of reasons. The book follows April’s adventures on Bear Island, where she moves for a couple of months thanks to her father being offered a job to do his research in the Artic Circle. Accordingly, for the 11-year-old girl, it is the perfect occasion to explore more of what she loves – that being, nature and wildlife. On Bear Island she builds a once-in-a-lifetime type of bond with someone just as in need of love and affection as she is, a friendship most people would be jealous of, including myself.
An adventure story filled with descriptions of scenery, emotions and loveable characters, accompanied by stunning illustrations by Levi Pinfold, I found the novel to be an ideal read for everyone, children and adults altogether. Although there are quite a few aspects I appreciated, the writing stood out particularly. I’ve encountered quite a couple of middle grade books that were sluggish and progressing too slowly; however, it’s not the case for Hannah Gold’s novel, which is very well written and fast paced, making the novel more enjoyable and Bear’s story easier to follow. The novel also approaches a rather delicate subject rarely encountered in children’s novels: climate and environmental change and its impact on the natural world, particularly in the northern areas. The manner of approach is equally moving and uplifting as it reiterates hope but also focuses on the importance of discussing and taking measure when it comes to climate change that results in diminishing species, melting ice caps and plastic being washed up on the shores. Accordingly, not only the writing style, but the educational dimension the novel comprises makes it worthy of appreciation.
April’s character stands as a reminder for my love for middle grade stories: she is likeable and relatable precisely for being different, for standing out and speaking up. Inheriting her mother’s passion for animals, she embarks on a journey to help a special friend she makes on Bear Island. Hence, while she gets in trouble for her attitude, her gutsy and fierce personality is an inspiration for children around the world, teaching them why and how important wildlife conservation is and how huge of an impact can small actions make. On the other hand, I loved that Bear wasn’t exaggeratedly personified and all of his actions are easy to believe and likely to happen with someone just as lucky as April was. The protagonist’s father, however, was a surprise as his growth across the novel is easily noticeable and was lovely to witness.
Conclusively, The Last Bear is a perfect bundle of likeable and relatable characters, a whole palette of emotions, a flawless storyline, an important message and vivid descriptions, all fastened together with an impeccable writing style. It’s certainly one of those (rather rare) novels one would love going back to in times of need for a heart-warming, cozy story, which, along with every other aspect mentioned, is why I recommend it to everyone, regardless of age.
Title: The Last Bear
Author: Hannah Gold
Publication Date: 2021
Publisher: Haper Collins Children
Format: Paperback|288 pages