The Water Bears

Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Apr. 2020. 272p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781984852205.
Gr 4-7–Newt Gomez lives on a remote island and worries about bears because one swam out last year and attacked him. Now the almost 13-year-old has bear-related post-traumatic stress disorder: bad dreams, cold sweats, fear of bear-like noises. He wants to live with his abuela on the mainland, where he won’t be the only Latinx kid in town. But things keep getting in his way: a mysterious new friend who happens to be a girl, a best buddy who won’t give up on him, and a washed-up wooden bear that just might grant wishes. Newt doesn’t believe in the bear’s power—but will he try its magic in order to get what he wants? Of course, that would mean figuring out what he really wants. This is a sweet coming-of-age novel about a boy trying to overcome his fear and pain with the help of a loving, supportive family. Newt’s conviction that things will be better somewhere, anywhere, else is a typical response to trauma, but he eventually learns to face the pain. It’s unfortunate that the titular water bears, though a minor theme in the book, don’t have much to do with Newt’s path to healing.
VERDICT Recommended, although this may require hand-selling to more thoughtful readers.

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