by Dave Amaditz and
Welcome to June’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.
This month we're pleased to highlight debut novelist, Paul Greci and his novel, Surviving Bear Island. Tom is stranded on Bear Island in the Alaskan wilderness during a kayaking trip with his father. When his kayak is overturned, Tom finds himself alone, but quickly finds out that living a solitary life on a remote and deserted island is the least of his fears.
Marcy and I can’t wait for you to join this incredible journey on the island with us.
1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?
Dave – Tom has been struggling for days to survive on the island. His time alone has given him plenty of time to think of the problems plaguing him, one of which was trying to come to grips with the fact he believes he was responsible for his mother’s death. I like how he learns to accept what he has or has not done. I believe this passage portrays those feelings well.
I knew I had to take care of myself. That no one was going to do anything for me. And when it comes right down to it, you have to rely on yourself. You’ve got to live with yourself and the choices you make.
Marcy – Throughout the novel, Tom has a lot of time to reflect on his home life and his problems. This paragraph is poignant and reflects that early on in the novel, the main character has the instinct to survive in bad times both at home and on Bear Island.
After he found out Mom died, he stood in the kitchen and dropped plates, one by one, on the floor until he’d broken them all. Then he took the bowls and did the same thing. I remember telling him to stop, but he acted like I wasn’t even there. I went into my room and cried and cried, and he never came in. When I came out hours later, he was sitting on the couch, and in the kitchen there wasn’t a speck of glass on the floor. I sat down next to him, and he put his arm around me. “We’ll get through this,” he said. But then he didn’t say anything much for months and months.
“I’ll get through this,” I said. “I’ll keep searching for Dad until I find him.” Another shiver ripped through my body.
2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?
Dave - As Marcy mentions below, there were many fantastic cliffhangers, but I chose this one from earlier in the novel while Tom is trying to escape from a bear.
The bear twisted away from me and I jumped backwards. My feet scrambled for grip as my arms reached out for the steep slope. I grabbed a berry bush by the base and it gave way. I fell backwards, like I’d been dumped out of an airplane, and landed on my back with my legs flat, pointing down slope. A sea of green flew over me as I bumped down the slope and gained speed with no sign of stopping.
I let out a scream.
Then my heels hit something that sent a jolt through my hips and all the way to the base of my head. I flopped forward, and all of a sudden I was flying through the air. Everything slowed down, like an instant replay of someone doing a ski jump.
I knew I was moving, was airborne, but felt no pressure-no resistance. Then I slammed into the ground. Face first. Mouth first.
Marcy – There were many intense cliffhangers in the novel. This chapter ending was more about survival and perseverance.
Choices. Life was full of choices. Don’t look back, I told myself. It does no good. I swallowed the last of my jerky and started down the slope in search of a place to camp.
3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?
Dave – It’s difficult for me to pick a secondary character, as Tom is alone for most of the novel. However, through flashbacks, I got to meet his dad. Tom has vivid recollections of the advice his dad has given, and to Tom’s great fortune, it always comes at a time when he needs it the most, as if his dad is right beside him. Following, is an example.
When you’re wet, the only way to stay warm without a fire or a change of clothes is to keep moving.
The spark’s got to hit some very small, dry flammable material-like dried grass or wood shavings or tiny scraps of birchbark. And then, you’ve got to blow on it and feed it.
Marcy – My favorite character is Mom. Even though Tom’s mom is no longer with him, her spirit is still alive inside of him and the memory of her guides him through his survival on Bear Island. Her easygoing personality and love of life and music shines through in her son.
I know my mom could’ve come up with something better, but she’d be happy that I was making a song. A song with her in mind. “Let the music flow through you,” she’d say. “Play with it. You don’t make mistakes when you make music. You make discoveries.”
There had to be a salmon stream farther back in the bay. Had to be, or else I’d have to cut off some fingers and roast them. Maybe I could work that in.
So the whole thing would go like this:
Wormy blue berries will help.
But alone will only make me yelp.
Like a dog I need more than a treat.
Salmon for the Sentinels can’t be beat.
If I don’t find any, then fingers I’ll eat.
4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?
Dave – This section comes from later in the novel while Tom is trying to use his flint to spark a flame, something he has never done, but needs to do, because he has no other resources to start a fire. I can see what he is doing. I can feel it, feel exactly what he is going through. Can’t you?
Come on, I thought. Just this one time. All I need is one flame. I closed my eyes and just kept running the knife up and down the flint. In my mind I saw sparks, or maybe I was seeing images of the real things through my eyelids. Part of me didn’t believe the flint would work, and part of me felt like I was a failure because I had this fire-starting tool and couldn’t get it to work. And all the time I just kept running the knife on the flint, keeping my eyes closed. I could feel the wood shavings brushing my knuckles as my hand moved.
“Fire, fire, fire,” I started singing.
Marcy – This paragraph shows a great deal about how Tom not only blames himself for his mom’s death, but also how he believes his dad blames him as well.
And for that whole first year I thought if Mom was gone I may as well be gone, too. Like I was part of a package deal and now the deal was off. And I thought Dad blamed me for Mom’s death too. I mean, he never told me he did, but he never told me he didn’t. Never. And he was right there when she asked me if I wanted to go on the ride and I chose to practice with my bow instead. The last thing she’d said was: If you’re not going, I’m gonna bike the whole loop.” And later that month my dad burned my bow and target.
5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?
Dave - For me, this line was easy. It’s short, as are most of the things his dad has said, but it tells you everything you need to know about what it will be like for Tom while alone on the island.
“When you are alone in the wilderness, everything is magnified.”
Marcy – Tom often talks to himself since he doesn’t have anyone else. These few lines are so very visual and true.
“Just me now,” I said. “Me and the wild. I’m wild. Part of the wild.”
To read more about Paul Greci’s debut novel, Surviving Bear Island, please go to:
Kirkus Review: “Bear Island is a challenging environment to survive but a terrific thrill on the page. (Adventure. 9-14)” https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/paul-greci/surviving-bear-island/
Junior Library Guild Selection: Surviving Bear Island is a Junior Library Guild Selection in the High Interest Middle Category. https://www.juniorlibraryguild.com/books/view.dT/9780985481094