Review - "Bear, Otter and the Kid" by TJ Klune
They don't get much better than this
Very Highly Recommended
"This is the way my world ends."
With this opening sentence, we meet Derrick (Bear, to those who know him), and discover that, one day short of his 18th birthday, three days shy of his high school graduation, and three months away from his leaving to start college, his mother has left. Left him alone and in charge of his five your old brother Tyson (Kid). With the help of his girlfriend Anna, his best friend Creed and Creed's brother Oliver (Otter), Bear picks himself up and gets on with the business of making sure the Kid is cared for and loved.
Over the course of the three or four years covered here, we see love. Love between two brothers, between friends, between a man and a woman, and between a man and another man. We see love end, love begin, and love transformed. We see love used as a weapon, love as an excuse, and love as a means of control.
We get the Kid's definition of love. "I think it's when you can't go on another day without the other person. That they make you feel like your stomach is on fire but in a good way."
We see it when a heart is broken and love ends. "You've broken my heart, but it was mine to give."
And we have our hearts broken when Bear tells the Kid their mom deserted them. "I heard the first gasping breath come out of his little body. 'Bear!' he cried into my ear. 'What's going to happen to me? I'm not big like you! What's going to happen to me?'" And Holy Hell, didn't I choke up at that...
What happens is...I almost don't have words for it...a glorious, imaginative, sprawling, touching, living heart of a book. TJ Klune has taken these characters and built a tale of family and love. We follow Bear's story, as he deals with his mother's leaving, raising the Kid, his on and off again relationship with Anna, and his struggle with whatever it is that exists between him and Otter.
Because at heart, this book IS about Bear and Otter. How love can start and stall and transform and be something that brings two people together and yet keep them apart and take you by surprise. The question that looms over the entirety of the book is, will Bear allow himself to trust and love, and will he allow it to be Otter?
Mr. Klune has crafted this story so lovingly and so completely, and invested his characters with so much personality and life that I found myself yelling at them one moment, so angry at their denseness and stubbornness, then gasping and swallowing against the lump in my throat and fighting the prickling of tears in my eyes as their care and concern and love for one another shone through. And marveling at how true to life the feelings and reactions were.
I forgot, sometimes, in my frustration with Bear that he is still a very young man. His shouldering of the responsibility of being mother, father and brother to the Kid in many ways froze him emotionally, and didn't grant him the time to grieve and get angry and be a normal young man. I found myself aching to give this young man a hug while at the same time wanting to shake the stuffing out of him. And that is where I think Mr. Klune's genius shines through. It is almost impossible to NOT react to Bear; he is all elbows and knees and sharp corners, and they stick out and poke the reader to react with and to him. I found myself drawn again and again to the Staind song "Epiphany" when pondering him.
"I am nothing more than a little boy inside
That cries out for attention
though I always try to hide
'Cause I talk to you like children,
Though I don't know how I feel
But I know I'll do the right thing
If the right thing is revealed
'Cause its always raining in my head
Forget all the things I should have said"
He is a little boy, hurt inside, and I want to just grab him and make it all right for him.
And as much as I love Bear, I love Otter and how he fits with Bear so well. He could very well be a caricature of a gay man, but he is so shaded, so colored with depth. Sometimes the sorrow is almost palpable, and then the light shines through, and I think, God, I want a man like this for myself.
And the Kid - I hate precocious children in movies and television. But this young boy is so three dimensional, there is never a wrong or sour note struck. He is the younger brother we would all love to have - wise but so very young and so flawed and just one more heartbreak away from a catastrophe. And yet, never a misstep. Held together by Bear and Otter and Anna and Creed. Just a wonderfully conceived and executed young man.
This book is one of my favorites of any genre I have read. I adore Amy Lane's "Promise Rock" books and place this in the same category as "All time favorite if I were trapped on a deserted island and could only take one book" books, because of the shared theme of family being what you make it, not what you are born with.
Mr. Klune, you have created a fine, fine work here that will be one of my favorites for years to come. You must have a huge heart to have created such warm, alive and meaningful characters, and I bless you for it. I wish I had the skill and words and talent, as you do, to do your beautiful book justice.