Moon Bear by Gill Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Twelve-year-old Tam grows up in the mountains of northern Laos, until his village is relocated to the lowlands to make way for a new highway. The promise of modern conveniences soon fades when tragedy strikes, and Tam is sent to work in the city to support his family. He is assigned to a bear farm, where he feeds and cleans up after caged bears in a warehouse, who are used for medical purposes. Appalled by the harsh conditions and cruel treatment of the animals, Tam resolves to escape his indentured service with a newly arrived moon bear cub, but his courageous plan involves great risks.
Gill Lewis’ (www.gilllewis.com) newest book, MOON BEAR, is a suspenseful and well-paced adventure that makes the reader care as much about the delightful characters as the important issues the novel explores, such as animal exploitation, child labor, and the impact of wars upon developing countries. At the same time, her intriguing look into Laotian culture is a refreshing break from the typical domestic settings in middle grade books and gives young readers an opportunity to broaden their multicultural awareness.
The depictions of Tam’s lifestyle as he transitions from hunter-gather in the mountains, to farmer in the lowlands, and then to laborer in the city are vivid and absorbing, but the parallel exposition of the different social values that Tam notices around him in each setting is just as well done. Lewis avoids being preachy, but the messages are clear. It’s rare when an exploration of so many important social issues is accomplished in such an entertaining and moving manner.
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