It was pretty brave of author Claire Cameron to come out with The Bear when we're in such easy memory distance of Room. It's an awfully difficult thing, narrating a novel from the POV of a really young child. I thought Emma Donaghue pulled it off beautifully with Room, but in The Bear, I had a hard time with five-year-old Anna's narration.
The set-up is compelling: Anna and her two-year-old brother nicknamed Stick because he's always sticky are camping in a remote Canadian park with their parents. Anna narrates in present tense. It becomes clear, at least to the reader, that during the night, a bear attacks and kills the parents, though not before the father gets the two kids into some kind of giant Coleman cooler to save them from the bear. (The author notes before the book starts that this did happen, minus the kids, in 1991.)
Maybe Room worked because the narrator had grown up in that room and knew nothing else of the world, so he wasn't really traumatized. Here, though, Anna and Stick hear their parents being killed, although Anna doesn't seem to grasp it, not even when she finds her dying mother on the ground, covered in blood, the next morning. How much would a five-year-old understand? I don't know. But it didn't feel real to me, that Anna blithely seems to think they're still on a grand adventure and her parents will come find them and take them home.
Part of it was the language. Much of this is a kind of stream of consciousness, and hanging around in a five-year-old's head is exhausting, especially when you think she should be reacting more to what's happened. She recognizes blood--wouldn't that trigger something in her? And at times tedious--who knew reading about kids hearing their parents being mauled by a bear could end up being so dull?
The really sad thing is that the ending could have been heartbreaking if not for the mess leading up to it. I have to wonder if this had been told through a limited third person POV. I think it would have been much stronger.