In Cameron’s second novel (The Line Painter, 2011), a 5-year-old girl relates her struggle for survival after a bear kills her parents while they’re camping on Bates Island in Canada’s Algonquin Park.
Any contemporary writer depicting extreme events through the eyes of a child must contend with the formidable precedent of Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010), and Cameron bears the comparison fairly well. In contrast to Donoghue’s multilayered portrait of adaptation and resistance, Cameron crafts a more straightforward adventure with a narration that nicely captures an ordinary child’s way of thinking—and of blocking out unwelcome knowledge. In the slam-bang opening, Anna Whyte wakes in the tent she shares with her 2-year-old brother, Stick, to hear their mother yelling. Their father rips open the tent and hustles the children into the animal-proof chest where they keep their food. A big “black dog” sniffs around the closed chest but can’t get in; some time later, Anna emerges to find her father’s severed foot in a shoe and her dying mother on the ground, urging her to “[g]et into the canoe and paddle away.” Anna lures Stick into the canoe with cookies, and they manage to float across to the park mainland. They have no food or water; their pajamas are soaked; at one particularly scary moment, Anna spots the bear at the island’s shore sniffing the air for their scent. Her guileless account shows her trying to be brave and take care of Stick, even though “I am not old enough to be a babysitter.” One darkly funny scene shows Anna acting like a typical older sibling as she keeps all the berries for herself, until finally prompted to share with Stick by the vague understanding that this time, food is a matter of life and death. Anna’s recovery is rather sketchily developed in the post-rescue scenes, but a touching epilogue 20 years after the ordeal brings home just how traumatized she was yet suggests that she can achieve some sort of closure.
Harrowing but ultimately hopeful.