When Spencer’s parents go missing, he’s tossed into a conspiracy of bear-abuse networks and talking bears.
Spencer’s mom and dad run a foundation that sends them on missions to rescue abused bears. Suddenly, his uncle Mark pulls him out of school (and into a car chase) because they’ve gone missing. Mark sends Spencer alone into the forest, where a good friend will be waiting to help him—but it’s a bear with a translator that allows him to communicate with Mark. The translators were developed by Professor Weaver, whom Mark’s parents met while in college, and a bear (hilariously) also named Professor Weaver. At secret, high-tech Bearhaven, all bears wear translators and live normal, humanlike lives with school, video games, a restaurant, and even water aerobics. Spencer stays with (bear) Professor Weaver’s family, befriends Kate the cub, and learns about the bear-abuse networks. These revolve around bear baying, brutally described, in which dogs attack chained and often declawed and defanged bears. He also learns about his parents’ nemeses: their college’s former live-mascot handler and her brother. The football helmet–wearing muscle of their team, the brother is also possibly developmentally delayed, a condition that’s distressingly played for laughs. When preparation fails to win Spencer a spot on a rescue mission, he turns to stealth. The ending sets up the next in the series.
While the story is not remotely realistic, it finds strength in silliness and periodic action sequences. (Fantasy. 8-11)