Wednesday, August 1, 2012

review: boys, bears, and a serious pair of hiking boots

Abby McDonald
Candlewick Press
(bought paperback)
Jenna, a suburban teen from New Jersey, is all about saving the planet. Between her "Green Teen" activism and all-organic, all-natural lifestyle, she's used to holding tight to her ideals. But when she finds herself spending the summer with her godmother in a tiny Canadian town in the middle of the wilderness, she has a tough time making her new life (where the town is hoping for more tourism, not less, and the people she meets think nothing of eating meat or even hunting it) fit with her long-held green idealism.

I have some conflicting thoughts and feelings about this book, but let's get this part out of the way first: I (definitely) liked it. Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots is a story I haven't read before. Its unique blend of environmentalism and real nature is by far one of the most readable and compelling parts of the book. Jenna's used to handing out flyers at the mall and holding protests to protect empty lots in her town, but finding herself in the middle of true wilderness, with boys who find her environmentalism off-putting at best and offensive at worst, is an entirely new experience.

In addition to the environmentalism-and-nature storyline, there are also a couple of different romance-related subplots, including an all-out-crazy crush on one of the guys she slowly makes friends with in Canada. This romance doesn't happen until about the second half of the book (although the book's summary uses it as a selling point) and though I didn't find the boy lacking when he was just one of many friends, as a romantic interest he lacked depth and I didn't feel that the two had enough compatibility to really make me care about their story.

Meanwhile, Jenna's best friend is working on a collective in New York and finding her way to a more extreme brand of environmentalism; just as Jenna is finding a deeper appreciation and understanding of her ideals, her best friend seems to be becoming more angry than passionate. The summary for this book talks about Jenna finding a way to compromise when it comes to her "long-held ideals," but to be honest I don't see it that way. To me compromise when it comes to beliefs, ideals, things that you're really personally passionate about, isn't necessarily a good thing. And what I think Jenna does, instead of compromising, is discover how her ideals and lofty ideas play out in a bigger sense than she's seen before. She develops an honest appreciation for the wilderness, thanks in part to the survival guide for mountain men she finds at a used bookstore (honestly, this part of the story -- with the survival guide she uses to help herself make friends and achieve things -- was one of my favorites).

Unfortunately, this uniquely awesome story of a girl discovering nature came a bit unravelled in the end, at least for me. While Jenna's personal story was great, the various subplots involving a few other characters (including her best friend) felt unnecessary to me and in the end wound up overshadowing Jenna and pulling the narrative away from the heart of the story.

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