I honestly am a bit torn with how I feel about Bear by Ben Queen and illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton. On the one hand, I kind of loved it–the story was so unique and full of feels. But, on the other…I hated so many things. Surface level, this is the story of a seeing-eye guide dog that loses his sight. And this is more or less the story that I was expecting to get. But, due to the age group this book is geared toward, that’s not quite the story that we got. It’s ironic, really. As someone who typically can’t stand to read stories that focus more on real-life, I was so annoyed that this one seemed more magical in nature.
Reality vs. Imagination
So, where I think I struggled the most with this graphic novel is the fact that I spent the majority of my time reading it wondering if this was possibly based on a true story. With that thought in mind, every time something that wasn’t super realistic happened, I got a little annoyed with it. I absolutely hated both the bear and raccoon characters because their purposes in the story were nefarious in nature rather than…realistic. Like, it makes sense for a bear to want to eat a dog. It does not make sense for a bear to want revenge against a dog.
In any other story, I don’t think this would have bothered me.
It bothered me here.
Alright, as far as the story goes, this isn’t a bad graphic novel at all. It’s actually pretty great and I genuinely do think kids are going to love it. We’re first introduced to Bear and how he meets his owner, Patrick, who is blind. We get to know them and their relationship and we also learn how important Bear considers his job of guiding Patrick. Then the unthinkable happens; Bear loses his sight.
Suddenly faced with the possibility of no longer being able to do his job and be there for what Patrick needs, Bear no longer knows what to do with himself. His entire purpose in life has disappeared and that is a devastating loss. Up to this point, I was in love with the story. It’s emotional, it’s compelling, the artwork is beautiful, and you’re so insanely invested in the characters you genuinely want to cry for Bear.
Then we meet the raccoons.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the direction Queen takes the story, but here is where I started to dislike it. At the encouragement of a raccoon he hears beneath the floorboards of his home, Bear decides to set out in search of a way to get his sight back. The raccoons for some reason push him to do this so they can sneak into the house and steal food (honestly, I thought this was so dumb). Then they leave Bear lost in the woods.
Then Bear meets a real bear who’s brothers are evil and want to eat him, but the one bear feels happy that Bear didn’t judge him for who he was initially–something he only does because he can’t see, mind you–so the bear helps him escape. And the only thing I liked even a little bit about this bear side-plot was the fact that Stone, the bear, helps Bear in small ways to learn how to use his other senses to get around.
But this is all horrendously tainted by the fact that Stone’s brothers are out to get Bear for literally the dumbest reason I could ever imagine (yay miscommunication!). Then Bear and Stone are lost for the rest of the story as they try to find Patrick. They finally arrive back home only for everything to get wrapped up in a pretty bow and THEN Bear goes to the vet and gets his sight back…
Uhm…what was the point of all that?
The story I was expecting, honestly, was one that detailed a guide dog getting lost in the woods, learning how to use his senses to get around. Then he would return to his owner with these new abilities that allow him to continue helping Patrick. Whether it be in the, admittedly, slightly unrealistic way of continuing to be his guide dog or simply by being a great companion. Maybe he makes some friends along the way and they help him learn these skills.
It would be an amazing story, right?
Instead, we get this strange mashup of nonsense that doesn’t really lead anywhere. I’m not quite sure what lesson we learned because the ending kind of renders it all moot. I mean, after all Bear went through, for him to get his sight back just like that seems like the wrong message to send. The poignant message about still being able to live a good life and have a purpose even though you’d lost your sight is completely lost because he gets his sight back.
The journey and everything he went through is suddenly completely and utterly pointless.
I mean, I could get past a lot of the nonsensical stuff in this book. I think the kids will enjoy it and overall it is not a bad story. It’s enjoyable. I loved Bear. I loved some of the other characters. But the overall message? The purpose behind this story? It falls so flat.
And that breaks my heart, honestly. There was so much potential here. Too much, even, for it to end the way it did.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.