For those of you who know me, you know that Shadow of the Bear is not really my kind of book. First off, it is contemporary fiction which is not my favorite genre. Secondly, it is set in New York City which is one step above Baffin Island in terms of places I'd like to visit. (OK, maybe one step below.) Thirdly, on it's face, it's a story about the trials and tribulations of two teen-aged girls--Rose and Blanche Brier. There are no swords, chain mail, or 12 pounders anywhere to be seen.
But strangely enough, I enjoyed Shadow of the Bear. It is very well written--a real page-turner in the best sense of that phrase. The author, Regina Doman, uniquely crafted the book as a modern retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red. And it works. Though following the framework of the old tale, Doman expertly weaves in modern settings, themes and issues to create a story that's clever and enchanting. Her lead characters are multi-dimensional and completely sympathetic and the story celebrates a number of very positive virtues: steadfastness, courage, trust, and self-sacrifice primary among them.
Of course, I had tremendous appreciation for Doman's unabashed use of Catholic themes. These are central to the story but are used with a light enough touch that they do not come off as preachy. I suspect that most Catholic readers will appreciate her honest insider's view of the Faith as opposed to the lame caricatures of Catholicism that appear in most secular fiction today.
Yes, it's true--Shadow of the Bear is a favorite of young adult readers of the female persuasion and that will probably remain the case in the future. But I don't think it would be a bad thing for young gentlemen to read these books as well. If they can wade through some very female dialog and several passages about clothing, hairstyles and makeup, they might even gain some insight into the sort of behavior that a virtuous young woman expects out of a man. That alone should be worth the price of the book for most young fellows.
As for reading level, due to some rather intense scenes toward the end of the book, I would call Shadow of the Bear suitable for ages 14 and up.