Sunday, June 7, 2020

Review: The Water Bears

Title: The Water Bears
Author: Kim Baker
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Pages: 272
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: All Newt Gomez wants for his thirteenth birthday is a bike. After surviving a bear attack last year, he thinks this isn't an unreasonable request. Instead, his hardworking parents give him a former taco truck to help him get around the wacky island where they live in the Pacific Northwest. And then Newt and his best friend Ethan find a life-sized wooden bear washed up on the shore. Ethan is convinced the bear grants wishes; Newt doesn't know what to think.

Newt also has a big decision ahead: go to middle school on the island, or to the mainland where his warm extended family lives? There, he won't be the only Latinx kid; he doesn't have bad dreams about the attack, and not everyone knows what happened to him. Newt secretly plots to move to his abuela's house, but his truck is stolen with the maybe-magic bear inside. He must confront his fears and adapt to the reality of a world that's often uncertain, but always full of salvageable wonders.

My review: I love, love, love this book. Newt won my heart almost immediately. He is a young boy who has lived through a trauma and is trying to heal. He's also trying to protect his loved ones from the pain he is experiencing. He hides his scars from his mom and doesn't share everything with his best friend so that Ethan won't be even more anxious. With all of this protecting going on, Newt is having a hard time trying to heal on his own. 

Besides his nightmares and trouble with recovery, he is also tired of the strangeness of their island community. He thinks everyone and everything is just so weird. It's true that gazebos made of old farm equipment and blue bottles are not exactly typical. It's also unique that they have their own lake creature sightings. And of course, most thirteen year olds are not expected to drive around in a used taco truck instead of using a bicycle.

The unique community is part of what I adored about this book. The people take what they have and find ways to use those things in new and creative ways. Newt wants to escape and get to the mainland where his abuela lives and where he believes everything is normal.

This book is a delight. Newt does go through seriously difficult things, but he has a strong network of people who love and care for him even if they do it in slightly unusual ways. I also appreciated the way that readers get to learn some things that help one heal after trauma. Being with Newt and his family and friends felt like getting a nice big hug. 

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