Review: There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart

It's time for another review. As 2014 trundles on, the number of We Are One Four'ers whose books are actually out is slowly increasing, but one guy - Ryan Gebhart - was way ahead of the pack, publishing his debut novel back in April. There Will Be Bears, a coming-of-age-ish, dealing-with-life-ish middle grade adventure, won great praise from Kirkus and readers alike, and I've been meaning to see what all the fuss was about.

Well, now I have, and what a good thing it was.

First, a bit about the book:

Thirteen-year-old Tyson loves hanging out with his roughneck Grandpa Gene, who’s a lot more fun than Tyson’s ex–best friend, Brighton. These days, Bright just wants to be seen with the cool jocks who make fun of Tyson’s Taylor Swift obsession and dorky ways. So when Grandpa Gene has to move to a nursing home that can manage his kidney disease, Tyson feels like he’s losing his only friend. Not only that, but Tyson was counting on Grandpa Gene to take him on his first big hunt. So in defiance of Mom and Dad’s strict orders, and despite reports of a scary, stalking, man-eating grizzly named Sandy, the two sneak off to the Grand Tetons. Yes, there will be action, like shooting and dressing a six-hundred-pound elk. Is Tyson tough enough? There will be heart-pounding suspense: is Grandpa Gene too sick to handle the hunt, miles away from help? And, oh yes, there will be bears. . . .

I've said before that reading books by people you know - even if you only 'know' them online - is fraught with the potential for disaster. What do you do if you don't like a book? Leave an insipid review? Leave none? Lie?

Maybe one day I'll find out. Lucky for Ryan, I was engrossed by this book. So engrossed, in fact, that I failed to notice a man had come to a complete stop next to me, lawn mower still roaring away, because I was sat where he needed to work. Think you can't fail to notice heavy machinery just because you're reading? Think again - and here's why: This is a brilliant book. Tyson's an genuine and self-deprecating kid, one who's also disarmingly honest about himself and his life. He's not afraid to show how he feels, and that's a huge strength, even if it causes problems with his friends and family. Ryan's managed to capture something special here: a narrator who's just as self-obsessed as any thirteen year old, but one who's been forced to care about other things, too, and does so entirely believably. I guess the main question of the book is two-fold: Will Tyson end up alone, and will he go on the bear hunt that's been promised for so long? These two things - friendship and family, and the rite of passage - are big and important things, but that doesn't stop There Will Be Bears from being funny, witty, and down-to-earth. His friendship with Bright - his best friend for so long who seems to be changing - is one of the best things in this book, I think. It's captured well, right down to the awkwardness of feeling uncool even though you're doing things that used to be cool, the strange balance young guys have between needing friends and not wanting to admit it, and even the dumb in-jokes we all have that still mean so much. I've seen some readers draw back from Tyson's sexist or not-P.C. remarks when he's with his mates, or talking back to a teacher. I think anyone who's actually spent time with thirteen year olds will recognize these things for what they are: genuine world-building and solid characters. Is Tyson a bit of a jerk? Cocky? Well, yeah. He's also patient and self assured and oh my gosh the ending of this book is so good.

I'm not going to spoil it for you, so I spent most of this review focusing on the people and the writing. The plot, though - let me tell you quickly - is intense and balanced and just the right side of unpredictable. The title's no lie, I promise, but don't think you've got this book sussed: it's an adventure with real guts, a page-turner in the best sense.

So, yes. Big thumbs up for this book. Well done, Ryan - can't wait for your next one (There Will Be Bears II: There Were Bears? Think about it.)

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Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz
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