What a unique and special story, so gently told but also full of intrigue. Thanks for the recommendation Joan! This is a story about a boy and a bear: a refugee boy from Vietnam recently landed in Canada, and a bear in the circus. It is set back in the day when the circus would come to town and one of the attractions might be a bear riding around on a tricycle wearing a pink tutu, or even a man wrestling with a bear. There also might be a “freak” show, with all sorts of human and/or animal abnormalities on display.
The boy’s name is Bo. He helps his mother take care of his little sister called Orange. She is the family secret, severely disfigured with birth defects from Agent Orange, a farm chemical used as a weapon of war to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. This immigrant family struggles to survive and fit in. Kuitenbrouwer captures many of the tensions that Bo experiences in always being ‘other.’ Despite efforts by his amazing teacher to help Bo fit in, he ends up street fighting a lot and one day is discovered by a circus trainer who eventually gives him his own bear to train. This becomes his passion, but being involved with the circus also brings tragedy. At one point his mother and sister disappear with the circus master and he and the bear are left to fend for themselves in the trees of High Park.
Kuitenbrouwer learned alot about bears while tree planting. So did another Canadian author Claire Cameron who wrote The Bear. Apparently both tree planters/authors wrote bear stories after their experience in the North. When they discovered this they had a moment of alarm that they had written the same story! Luckily they were not at all the same, and both are well worth a read!