Rating: 5 stars (and 5 more for shear awesomeness as Bear would say)
Who We Are picks up right where the last pages of Bear, Otter and the Kid left us. Derrick “Bear” McKenna, Bear’s brother Tyson (aka the Kid), and Bear’s boyfriend, Oliver “Otter” Thompson have overcome some, but not all, of the obstacles in their path to becoming a family. Bear and the Kid’s mother has vanished again, as has Otter’s ex boyfriend. The three of them are moving into their new house, affectionately known as “The Green Monstrosity.” Bear is going back to school, Otter’s at the photography shop, and the Kid is about to skip ahead a grade at school.
The events of last summer still reverberate through their lives as they try and move forward. With Otter’s help, Bear is trying for custody of the Kid, the Kid has to see a therapist, and things are still cool between Bear and his best friend, Creed, who just happens to be Otter’s younger brother. As usual, the chaos is accompanied by the running dialog in Bear’s brain that threatens to overwhelm him in any given situation. But sometimes the best of families are formed by love and not blood. With Mrs. Paquinn, Anna, and more on their side, the family comes together as they all learn that family is “defined by those who make us whole—those who make us who we are.”
I am always a little hesitant when picking up a sequel to a beloved novel. My mind is full of questions to go with the anticipation. Will the characters I came to love retain the same layering, the same quirkiness that captured my heart to begin with? Can the author recreate the magic the first book so beautifully delivered? Will I be happy with the new journey on which the author takes our heroes? And I am so happy to be able to tell you the answer to all those questions is a resounding “Hell, yes!” With Who We Are, Klune delivers a knockout punch of a novel that in many ways supersedes the one that went before. Here we still have all the elements that made Bear, Otter and the Kid so special. Bear’s jumbled inner commentary still reigns supreme, erupting in nonsensical sentences to the amusement and bemusement of all. The Kid still produces bad poetry and sage pronouncements on the evils of eating meat and the wisdom of Anderson Cooper. Otter is trying to be the strength and glue for all of them even as their emotions and new trials shake the walls they are building around them. Mrs. Paquinn is still her loving, eccentric self and her importance to Bear, Tyson, and Otter has not diminished. Anna, Bear’s ex girlfriend, along with Creed, his childhood best friend, are all here. Everyone is here but supersized. It’s as though a patina of copper has been thrown over the characters who now shine more brightly, whose nuances and depth reflect out past the pages and into our hearts. For those who said “Please sir, I want some more,” here it is. There’s more more here. More emotion, more trials, more complications, more of the realities people face when they come together as a family. And of course, much more love of every type whether it be newly discovered, hard fought, long established, brotherly, and finally fully realized romantic love. Love is here in its many permutations.
Klune demonstrates with authority his gift with characterization as once more Bear, Otter, the Kid, and new characters roar to life within their story. Bear is still Bear, insecure, brave, at once burdened and lifted up by stewardship of his little brother. But now that he has accepted his sexuality and Otter’s place within his heart, the character of Bear seems to expand and strengthen. His inner dialog still runs amuck but wreaks less damage as he talks himself out of one self inflicted panic after another. Tyson is still that most amazing of kids. I have met children with the same frightening degree of intelligence so that has always rung true about his character. But Klune never forgets that Tyson is also a young child with all the fragility of the young. When the emotional earthquakes happen, the impact upon the Kid shake not only his family, but the reader with its tremors. Otter has never seemed more human than he does within these pages. Always the strong one, here Otter’s own insecurities and doubts come forward. He must deal with his family’s reaction to his own coming out and his brother’s lack of communication with him before his goal of a family with Bear and Tyson can become a reality. With Otter, a good character became great. Dominic is a new character that reaches out with his damaged background and dares the reader not to love him. And love him you will along with all the denizens of Seafare, past and present. The author never takes the easy out with one dimensional characters or situations. Instead we are given loving families presented with an upheaval of their status quo, and then shown how they overcome past tragedies and feelings to bring everyone back together. These people breathe air and walk with large strides across the pages of this novel with certainty and determination.
In Who We Are, Klune never forgets to maintain his story’s emotional balance as comedy is interwoven with equal amounts of heartbreaking angst. I often found myself laughing and crying together with the characters, as so often both tears of pain and joy mingle as emotions collilde on the same page. The story is also solidly constructed and those annoying questions left over from the first book are happily resolved here to my complete satisfaction. And that prologue was a thing of geeky beauty! As Bear finished with his tale and said goodbye, I was sad to get the end of Who We Are. Even with the wonderful epilogue, their voices spoke so clearly to me that I will miss them so.
You will find no quibbles here within this review. I loved this book, no ifs ands or buts.This is a book I will come back to when I feel the need to see them all again, especially the Kid and his bad poetry. Here is a sample, trust me it grows on you!
“Bacon is bad! Beef is wrong!
Mad Cow Disease stays with you for a time that’s long!”
For the rest of it, you will just have to buy the book. Trust me, you will love it.
P.S. There is a wonderful short story, Word of the Day, where in the Kid first meets Dominic. You can find it here at T.J. Klune’s blog, A Fistful of Awesome.
Cover: The cover artist is Paul Richmond. The cover art for both books always looks as though a young adult had crafted it. It does give the books a unique look that immediately identifies them but it comes across as less than polished. Perhaps that is the intent. Hard to argue with the happy family on the front.