- ISBN-13: 9781481400947
- ISBN-10: 1481400940
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
- Publish Date: March 2015
- Page Count: 384
- Reading Level: Ages 8-12
- Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.9 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-01-26
- Reviewer: Staff
In northern Laos, 12-year-old Tam and his family endure one hardship after the next. His family is forced out of its mountain home to make way for a road, a hidden bomb kills his father, and Tam is sent away to work a dangerous job tending a handful of caged bears for a man known as the Doctor. Lewis’s (Wild Wings) simple word choice and sentence structure belie the rich atmosphere and symbolism that she deftly integrates into this tale, which is populated by relatable and fully realized characters. At the heart of the story is Sôok-dìi, a moon bear cub that Tam helps raise from infancy. Like Tam, the bear is a victim of circumstances—forced to live in a cage and endure experimentation, he is restless and yearns to be free. Through Tam’s selfless quest to get the bear back to the wild, and his protection of the cub at the expense of his own well-being, readers witness the depths of his bravery, compassion, and strong moral compass. Art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Mar.)
A moving Laotian tale
In this humbly magnificent tale of the ultimate triumph of good over evil, 12-year-old Tam goes from wretchedness to hopefulness as he begins to understand the ancient wisdom of his people.
Tam’s family is forced to relocate from the mountainous forests of Laos to an area outside the Mekong Delta, the first of several events he must adjust to and eventually overcome. The displaced family receives a terrible history lesson when Tam’s father explodes a stray land mine while clearing his field and dies. To help support his family, Tam takes a job in the city at a cruel “farm” where bile is extracted from live, rare moon bears. The bears’ living situation is appalling, but Tam is powerless to change anything.
General Chan, the powerful man in charge of the relocation project, often visits the moon bear farm, seeking the bile to cure his daughter, Savanh. Tam and Savanh become friends, and he tells her the truth about the farm. Eventually Tam makes a bold move to forever change the life of one small bear. Savanh supports Tam’s decision, leading to a dramatic confrontation.
Cultural references lend much grace to this tale, in which the pure of heart ultimately win.