August 29, 2011

Review: Bear, Otter, and the Kid by T.J. Klune (or more like review of the movie Shelter)

ETA: I have changed the final grading to 1, I enjoyed the book immensely but it turns out the plot was “borrowed” from the movie Shelter. Plagiarism is a terrible thing, perhaps said borrowing of a plot and changing a couple of things here and there including names is not illegal, but to me is unethical and just plain wrong. Writing is all about originality, stealing someone else’s idea makes you a thief not a writer, it may not be this way for everyone, including this Dreamspinner Press editor, but it is to me. What a shame. 

ETA 2: Dreamspinner Press has issued a response, which you can read it here. In addition, they are offering a free download of the book for a limited time, so that readers can form their own opinions. After watching the movie I can say that the book borrows heavily from it and that all this mess could have been avoided if the author had at least acknowledged where he got his inspiration. If you don't want to read the book or watch the movie, you can always read this post that lists all the similarities. 

Source: we received an e-ARC of the book through NetGalley for review purposes.

Everything about this book appealed to me. The cover, the blurb, the genre, when I saw it I just had to read it, I felt like the cat that found the golden catnip. I love contemporary romances with clever children, guys struggling to raise them and friends-to-lovers stories, and this book had all of that and more. This is T.J. Klune’s first book and he did a fantastic job, enough to make it into my top 10 best books of the year and into my auto-buy list.

If you read the synopsis you will know that the book is about Bear who at 17 gets a letter from his mom telling him that she is leaving with her lowlife boyfriend and that she’s leaving his 6 year old brother Ty -aka the Kid- with him. Three years latter Bear is raising his precocious brother, working at a grocery store and living a very regular and stale life. He has a girlfriend and a best friend who have been with him since he was a kid and who have helped him with the Kid, and he also has Otter. Well, he doesn’t really have him because for the past three years he’s been living in San Diego and even though he was also one of his closest friends and probably the one he relayed the most on, things are really complicated between them. But everything is about to change because Otter is back in town.

There are many things going on in this book but the main one is a love story. The romance develops really slowly because besides what’s going on in the present you also get a series of flashbacks that put everything in perspective which allows you to have a clear image of everything that happened before, and how it affects the present. But this is not only a romance, it’s also a love story about friendship and family. Every single character in this book plays an important role and the story wouldn’t be the same without them.

Bear is a complex character. At 21 he has been through a lot but he has also missed a lot, so while he is very mature in some aspects, in others he is naïve and inexperienced. He was the most realistic of all the characters because even though he loved his brother he sometimes resented him. I loved reading about him and getting to know him, he was such a great person but he was flawed and even exasperating. At times he seemed wiser beyond his age, but more often than not he really seemed his age. He has the hardest story arch because he has to come to terms with his sexuality but he also has to come to terms with his mother’s abandonment, and with putting his life on hold to take care of his brother.

Otter was just dreamy. I fell in love with him almost at first sight, he was the perfect combination of strong and vulnerable and I was desperate for him to get his happily ever after. He was nine years older than Bear and it showed. But instead of being all “I know best so do what I say” with Bear, he took a backseat and let him make his own choices, even if those choices sometimes hurt him. Maybe he was too perfect, perhaps it would have been best to see inside his head but the book is narrated by Bear so we don’t, although I have never read a first person book where the other characters are so well drawn and so clear. As they said in the book, Otter wears his hear on his sleeve and that was obvious for the characters as well as the readers.

The Kid was the character that bothered me the most. Don’t get me wrong, I adored him but he was completely unrealistic. Maybe I have never met a kid that intelligent, but it was hard for me to believe that a kid would behave that way, especially during the last part of the book. Some of the final conversations were just ridiculous and unbelievable. Having said that, the character works like a charm, I enjoyed every single scene he’s at and I just plain loved him. The fact that he was unbelievable didn’t ruin the book for me, in fact, it probably made it better. This is fiction and that’s why creative license is for. I don’t usually like kids similar to Ty, but Klune makes it work by showing Ty’s insecurities.

The secondary characters are Bear’s girlfriend Anna, and Creed who is Otter’s brother and Bear’s best friend. Of the two of them the less developed character and the most stereotypical one, was Creed, but he was very likeable and I was happy to see how things worked out for him. The best thing about Anna was that she wasn’t the villain, she truly loved Bear and was hurt by him but in the end she wanted his friendship. I see the resolution of their story more like something in the mend and I know that eventually they will be able to regain their friendship but it will take some time.

There were some things that I didn’t particularly like about the book, mainly towards the end, but they are spoilerish so I won’t tell you about them. Besides, I don’t really care about them, the book is definitely flawed, sometimes is a bit slow, sometimes the characters are unbelievable, the ending is slightly rushed, there are some thing left unexplained, but as I said I don’t care. This book was wonderful, I couldn’t stop reading it and I was sad when I finished it because I didn’t want to say goodbye. It had drama, comedy, angst, hot sex, a sweet romance and an incredible portrayal of friendship. If you like contemporary romance then this should be part of your TBR list.

Review by Brie
Grade: 5 1 
Sensuality: a very light McSteamy (too graphic to be McSexy)

Three years ago, Bear McKenna's mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they've muddled through, but since he's totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn't actually doing much living-with a few exceptions, he's retreated from the world, and he's mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.

Otter is Bear's best friend's older brother, and as they've done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect. This time, though, there's nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them. Bear still believes his place is as the Kid's guardian, but he can't help thinking there could be something more for him in the world... something or someone.

Dreamspinner Press; August 12, 2011.

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