Review of Bear, Otter And The Kid by TJ Klune

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With the sequel to BOATK out  from Dreamspinner Press, I thought we would take a look back to our first introduction to Bear, Otter and the Kid and some added thoughts from me on these beloved characters.

5 stars

Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.

Otter is Bear’s best friend’s older brother, and as they’ve done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect. This time, though, there’s nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them. Bear still believes his place is as the Kid’s guardian, but he can’t help thinking there could be something more for him in the world… something or someone.

That was the publisher’s blurb for BOATK as it is affectionately called now.  But that description doesn’t start to describe the heartwarming, and at times heartrending story that is Bear, The Otter and The Kid.

It is a remarkable story of family and love told through the POV and unique voice of Derrick “Bear” McKinna made even more remarkable for BOATK being the first book written by TJ Klune.  The story is so well done that I found it difficult to separate myself from it and its characters at the end, so real does it feel.  Bear is a beautifully constructed, multilayered character whose voice and thought patterns are so unique that I can tell it is his character at a glance at the phrasing.  Bear has all the conflicted feelings, traumatized emotions and inner denial monster you would expect from a young boy whose mother has stolen the few funds he had saved, written him a crappy note and fled, leaving him the sole responsibility of a young brother with a brilliant mind inside the body of a five year old.  In other words, Bear is still dealing with his hormones, letting go his dream of college, and the constant turmoil and fear that their mother abandoning them has left behind. All through Bear’s actions and sometimes inability to cope, you may get frustrated with this character and want to throttle him, but  it is because everything about Bear seems authentic, including his control issues and need for stability.

The other star of this story is The Kid, also known as Tyson McKenna.  When this story first appeared, there were several reviews that remarked on the Kid’s high level of dialog and shear “smarts”, saying no 8 year old (as he was later in the story) sounded like that.  But I have worked with children for over 20 years and come across others with Tyson’s intellect and outlook.  It is to the author’s credit that I felt I knew the Kid intimately, laughing at his “bad” poetry and crying with him in the bathtub when the emotional hurricanes hit.  I love the Kid, vegetarian and eco terrorist in the making.  And his poetry?  Oh my…… Here’s a sample:

“Otter! Otter! Otter!

Don’t lead cows to slaughter!

I love you, and I know I should’ve told you soon-a

But you didn’t buy the dolphin-safe tuna!”

Half the time I am reading, I am also wheezing with laughter and wiping my eyes.  No really, you have to read this!  And there are other great characters orbiting the two McKenna boys, Creed Thompson, Bear’s best friend forever, Anna, Bear’s girlfriend, Mrs. Paquinn (next door neighbor and Tyson’s sitter), and finally Otter Thompson who is Creed’s older brother and the love of Bear’s life if only Bear can admit he is gay.

The author handles with skill the whole issue of Bear finally admitting he is gay and the pain and anguish that is his companion throughout the process. As Bear admits his sexuality, climbs out and away from the safety of the closet, your tears will flow and your nose is going to run. Just saying. And then you are going to think of every young gay boy out there dealing with his sexuality, the guts it takes to admit you are gay while facing the taunts and jeers of homophobes who may just be your family and neighbors,  and the tears will  start anew.  Keep that box of tissues handy.  You will need all of them. What TJ Klune has done with Bear is give other GLBT youths/young men someone they can identify with, a character  we desperately need to see more often in YA fiction and media.

The closer it gets to Bear’s high school graduation, the more problems seem to accumulate until  Bear is panic stricken and feeling out of control. As the story builds to its climax, you find yourself teetering on the edge of the precipice with Bear and the Kid.  Your heart is in your throat along with theirs, hoping their next step doesn’t see them toppling over the cliff. And you realize what an outstanding job TJ Klune has done to bring you there with the two boys.

I did have a few quibbles as to unanswered questions left at the end of the story and am happy to say they are all answered in Who We Are to be reviewed here tomorrow.  I am also happy to say that Bear, Otter and the Kid will live on.  That’s the word from Klune who has had quite the year, full of ups and downs.  I will let him tell you all about it in this post he wrote for his blog. I am sorry he had that year but quite honestly I think it has made him that much stronger as an author.  Bear, Otter, and The Kid as well as Who We Are have become comfort rereads for me and I think they will do the same for you.  Please give them a chance.  You won’t be sorry.

Cover:  Paul Richmond is the cover artist and I really like this cover with the Kid so prominently featured. The author has said he asked that Tyson be put in that position on the cover as that is his position in the story.  I like it, it makes me smile.  So does the Kid.

TJ Klune can be found here at A Fistful of Awesome.  http://www.tjklunebooks.blogspot.com

Both BOATK books can be bought at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and ARe.