Friday, August 20, 2021

Review: Bear Boy by Justin Barker with Foreword by Jane Goodall

I was touched when the author of today's read reached out to me with his new book. I believe this is the first memoir that I've had on Bookworm for Kids. And while I'm not usually a fan of memoirs, this one is well done and does keep the intended age group in mind. Of course, a foreword from Jane Goodall is an extra treat. 

But go ahead and read on to find out more.

The True Story of a Boy, Two Bears, and the Fight to be Free
by Justin Barker
Foreword by Jane Goodall
Brutus & Ursula LLC
YA Memoir / Nonfiction
240 pages

Bear Boy is a true-life coming-of-age story of two bears who inspire one boy to stand up for animals, question authority and discover the power of activism.

Justin is a typical teenager, dodging school bullies and waging an endless war with his parents. But when he discovers Ursula and Brutus-two sibling black bears being kept in horrific conditions at a nearby zoo-his life begins to change. He finds a cause that ignites his passion and an animal sanctuary willing to take the bears. But there's a catch: he'll have to cover the quarter-million-dollar cost.

Undaunted, Justin takes his seemingly insurmountable quest to an international audience, gaining media attention and support from celebrities. With television cameras rolling, Justin fights to free the bears, and it turns out himself.

Justin Barker's surprising and moving YA memoir offers the optimism of the 1990s while exploring timely issues of activism, animal rights, and LGBTQ identity with tenderness, unblinking honesty, and heart.

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Every page inspires as the author reveals his amazing determination and effort to stand up for what he believed in and did everything he could to make a difference.

At age thirteen, Justin Barker accidentally stumbled across something in a used bookstore that changed his life. Learning where 'meat' came from and the sometimes terrible circumstances animals were raised under, he decided to alter his life. Not sure where to begin, he steered toward the living conditions of animals in zoos. After a success with his first attempts to help animals, he learned of two bears, who needed help, and despite the challenges, he refused to leave them to their fate at that time.

First off, this is a memoir. While I understood it was a true story, it wasn't clear to me that it would take this form...not that this was an issue. The book follows the real life account of the author's beginning teen years as he finds his calling and fights his first battles. His tale is inspiring, not only because of his own determination, but it does show that even younger advocates can make a difference. It's inspiring to see that the adults and organizations took him seriously, and that he was able to do what would normally seem as impossible. Books like this do open doors and, hopefully, give some readers the push they need to chase their own dreams.

This is written in an engaging manner and doesn't let boring passages sink in (which can be the problem with memoirs for this age group). The author allows himself to really remember how he was at that age and does keep this at that level. The tale takes place in the 90's, and there were obviously differences when compared to modern times, but the author doesn't forget this and makes sure to add needed explanations, while keeping them short and on point. My only comment is that this reads as a thirteen-year-old and stays in that swing...which makes it a bit on the low end for the YA audience and more for upper middle graders. But the material and language (when discussing his sexuality) is not really appropriate for the middle graders. So, I'd classify this one more as a tween read, but with caution for more sensitive readers. (It's really about several used terms more than anything else).

All in all, this is a well done memoir and does a wonderful job at inspiring young readers. The foreword for Jane Goodall is touching, and there was a lovely sense of honesty even in the author's ending words.

1 comment:

Heather N. Quinn said...

It's a sweet cover! Sounds like a book that covers a lot of ground. Real life is always so much messier than fiction, which is perhaps why it's so hard to slot memoirs for kids into age categories, and why reviews like yours are so useful!