July 2024


By Julia Phillips
Review by
In Julia Phillips’ latest, sisters Sam and Elena spend their days working and caring for their dying mother on an island in the Pacific Northwest—until the arrival of a bear upends their equilibrium.
Share this Article:

As Bear by Julia Phillips opens, there’s a wildness that takes over, an immediate sense that control is elusive, that the landscape, not humans, is in charge. On an island in the Pacific Northwest, two sisters—Sam and Elena—spend their days working, caring for their dying mother and imagining future possibilities for their lives. Their routines are measured and predictable.

With limited employment available post-pandemic, Sam works in food service on the ferry to and from the island. She’s startled one day to see a bear swimming off the side—unusual for the area—and she shares the sighting with her sister, Elena. When the bear unexpectedly arrives outside their home, Sam is shocked, terrified; Elena is enchanted, curious. The bear disrupts their equilibrium, introducing questions they’re unsure how to answer. As the novel unfolds, the twin tensions of caring for their mother and of tracking and understanding the bear’s presence push against each other, forcing the sisters’ relationship to change. 

Bear takes light inspiration from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Snow White and Rose Red,” but it would feel like a modern fairy tale regardless thanks to its sense of looking for wonder and magic in surroundings, of giving in to surprise and forces beyond one’s imagination in a world that feels hard. There’s a taut energy, a quickness to the language that contrasts the richness of landscape with the intensity of humans struggling in myriad ways to survive, let alone thrive. It’s a novel that asks to be read in a single sitting: it’s short, carefully paced, language-driven. Just as Elena and Sam can’t look away from the bear, it’s hard to look away from this story that unfolds in deft, surprising, unexpected ways. 

Trending Reviews

Get the Book



By Julia Phillips
ISBN 9780525520436

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.