For environmentally-active teen Jenna, a summer spreading out before her in Stillwater, British Columbia, Canada is equal-parts thrilling and nerve-wracking. Leaving behind her suburban American roots to spend several months with her godmother Susie, Jenna isn’t quite prepared for the rugged adventures that await her in the great outdoors — or the whims and tantrums of Fiona, Susie’s teenage stepdaughter and Jenna’s unwilling roommate.
Missing her best friend Olivia and with Fiona’s bad attitude attacking her from all sides, Jenna throws herself into making friends with the locals — especially the Johnson boys, a trio of good-looking and outdoorsy brothers who spend their time kayaking, hiking and hanging around bonfires. Though no one save Susie is overly friendly in Stillwater, Jenna is happy for the distraction that this “vacation” brings her — after years of fighting and indecision, Jenna’s parents seem on the verge of divorce. And that’s one conversation she really doesn’t want to have.
Abby McDonald’s Boys, Bears, And A Serious Pair Of Hiking Boots is a fun adventure centering around a strong-willed, sensitive and intelligent teen. Like other great young adult fiction I’ve read lately, Jenna is an assertive narrator who isn’t content blending into the pack — but isn’t a troublemaker, either. As a narrator, I appreciated her humorous and funny take on life in Canada, which is decidedly different from the halls of her New Jersey high school.
Jenna is a member of the Green Teens, an environmentally-conscious and active social group at home, and she takes her responsibilities there seriously — perhaps to the exclusion of other social activities. The Green Teens is a club she shares with Olivia, another assertive teen who is spending the summer with her boyfriend at a retreat-like place in upstate New York. Separated from the one person she believes understands her better than anyone, Jenna begins the summer missing Olivia terribly . . . but as the weeks go by and she gets to know others in Stillwater better, Jenna’s views on the things she once shared exclusively with Olivia shift greatly.
What I loved most about the book was the progression of Jenna as a character. She wasn’t annoying or intolerant in the beginning — not exactly — but by the close of Boys, Bears, And A Serious Pair Of Hiking Boots, we can really see a change in who she has become. This all felt organic to me; I never felt like Jenna had suddenly morphed into someone new in the spaces between page turnings. The sweet love story that develops, centering around glances and barely-brushing fingertips, was really endearing, too.
I read this novel over the span of a few hours and really felt like I’d been dropped in a Canadian river alongside our narrator. I loved Susie and the bed and breakfast she and husband Adam were renovating, and I even came to love — shock of shocks — Fiona, our rebellious and fiesty friend. Each of the characters were well-drawn and, in addition to all the Johnson boys, I felt like I had gotten to know them well by the close of the book. And I have to make a special note of how much I loved and was satisfied with the ending! I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
Fans of young adult fiction will appreciate a heroine who isn’t a cookie-cutter cut-out of any other I’ve read, and the addition of environmental issues made this an interesting read without it becoming pedantic or heavy-handed. I never felt like McDonald was trying to pull one over on me by forcing me to change out my lightbulbs or recycle every can of soda I drink (though I do those things!). Basically, just a really fun and light summer story — a great read for lounging in the yard with a glass of iced tea. Or, in my case, huddled on the couch with a mug of cocoa.
Boys, Bears, And A Serious Pair of Hiking Boots will be released in hardcover April 16 from Candlewick Press.
4 out of 5!