Monday, April 6, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: SURVIVING BEAR ISLAND by Paul Greci

SURVIVING BEAR ISLAND by Paul Greci (Move Books, March 2015)

Paul Greci is one of my Project Mayhem colleagues, and this is his debut. And a very fine debut it is too!

What It's About: (From the Move Books website)
Tom is kayaking with his father in Prince William Sound near Bear Island. When the waters turn rough and the boat overturns, Tom is stranded and alone with a pocket survival pack his father insisted he carry. But is it enough? Will he survive on the desolate island where his only company are bears, other wild animals and the harsh terrain? His dad would know what to do, but is Tom savvy enough to survive?

Opening Lines: 
A wall of dog-like heads was closing in on us. Sea lions, six or eight of them, swam side by side. They raced toward us like they were gonna swim right through us, stretching their necks and plowing through the water like they had motors attached to their backs. I gripped my paddle tighter and held it just above the water, waiting, watching, just like Dad. then, at the last second they dove."

Why I Loved It:
I must confess I'm not much of an outdoorsman, and the reality is that I wouldn't last more than a day stranded on an island inhabited mostly by bears. But Paul Greci's novel was so engrossing and so lifelike that I really began to feel like I was in Tom Parker's head during this ordeal.

Tom survives for more than sixty days, using his ingenuity and paying heed to the teachings of his father, who appears to have been lost at sea. In fact, Tom believes he actually hears his fathers voice--and this adds to the book's innate tension: will he find (or be found by) his father? Or is he really alone, and will he be able to hunt and gather enough food to survive? There are incidents with bears, porcupines, salmon, and a baby sea otter--as well as a heart-pounding bear chase.

The novel is made even richer by the zigzags in the narrative as it moves in time between Tom's present, and the past events which led to the accident--as well as the knowledge that Tom's mother also died in an accident, and the guilt that Tom carries because of that.

Finally, the book also brings Alaska to life. Paul Greci knows the land about which he writes, and the setting is as much a character as any of the humans depicted within.

I treated Paul to the traditional mafioso interview--as well as some special extra questions about Alaska. Enjoy!

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
I have many favorites, but here are three: Will Hobbs, Jill Patton Walsh, Natalie Babbitt.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it:
Let’s see. The scene where Tom encounters a sea otter pup. I like this scene because it illustrates the complexities involved in making external survival decisions coupled with internal conflict. And, the scene turned one of my readers into a vegetarian.

4) Fill in the blank: I am really awesome at... getting up early in the morning and squeezing in some writing time before heading to work.

5) My favorite breakfast is... oatmeal. I eat it five days a week. Pretty boring, I know. But it is grounding, too.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Wow! There are so many places I’d love to go but I’ll just choose one. I’ve always been fascinated by Easter Island and those big stone statues.

Some extra questions: Have you ever been stranded like Tom?
I have never been stranded like Tom but I have felt like I’ve been a couple of paddle strokes away from being in his position on a few occasions in remote corners of Prince William Sound.

Did you have real-life experience of catching and eating porcupine (as well as salmon and deer)--or did you come by your information another way?
I have fished for salmon many times and have cooked them the way Tom does. On a solo kayak trip I came up with the cooking method that Tom uses. I have never eaten a porcupine!

Have you ever been chased by a bear?
I have seen polar bears gnawing on a whale carcass, grizzly bears digging for ground squirrels, and black bears fishing for salmon. I have had bears zip by me running 30 plus miles per hour, but I never been chased by a bear. I hope I am not jinxing myself by making that statement!!

About the Author: Paul Greci is a teacher and writer who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. If you want to see photos of his many adventures, you can find them on his Bio page on his website, Northwriter.