Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2012:
“A compassionate bear defies everything to save a boy from certain death in this original story blending creation myth with post-apocalyptic and animal-fantasy traditions.
The Forest, where Casseomae hunts, forages and has given birth to several litters of stillborn cubs, is littered with relics of the humans, or Skinless Ones. Ages before, Skinless cut down the trees and nearly drove hunting animals, or voras, into extinction until the Ogeema (wolves) eradicated them. When a human starship crashes in the Forest, Casseomea discovers a human boy in the wreckage. Instinct compels her to save this cub who is “not so different from the ones she lost.” Determined the new Skinless One will “upset the order of the Forest,” the Ogeema pursue Casseomae, who flees with the boy. She is joined by Dumpster, a sassy, street-smart rat, and Pang, an outcast dog. Together they travel along overgrown highways, past abandoned power lines, gas stations and garbage dumps to ruined cities, seeking a safe haven. In contrast to the somewhat bleak social commentary, Casseomae’s unwavering hope for the silent boy in her care never waivers. Appropriately, animal characters are fully developed and complex while the boy remains a pivotal unknown.
Compelling animal fantasy grounded in ecological warnings.”
Booklist, May 15, 2012:
“The folklore staple of a human child raised by wild beasts gets a postapocalyptic twist in Bemis’ novel. Humans, known as Skinless Ones, Old Devils, or Companions—depending on who is speaking of them—are supposedly extinct. Their cities are empty and the Forest is now controlled by vicious packs of wolves, who claim to have exterminated the humans, and who maintain a strict hierarchy in which formerly domestic pets are despised by the wild animals. When childless bear Casseomae rescues a boy “cub,” the sole survivor of a spaceship crash, she sets off to find a place where she can raise him in safety, away from the wolves and dogs who wish to claim him alternately as a sacrifice and a savior. This is a thoughtful fantasy, rich in characterization and drama, with a unique language that is simultaneously ancient and familiar. Bemis creates a believable reality in which all that is left of humanity is the oral tradition of rats (who lived among humans without befriending them)—by passing on stories, the rats preserve the truth.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, July/August, 2012:
“In this intriguing animal fantasy turned post-apocalyptic tale, an old bear defies the traditions of her world to care for an orphaned human boy. Casseomae’s peaceful ursine existence living and foraging among the ruins of the “Skinless Ones” (i.e., humans, whose dominance over the natural world was finally brought to an end by the wolves long ago) is interrupted when a “metal bird” crashes near her home and the old bear discovers a human boy among the wreckage. Reminded of the many cubs lost to her, Casseomae is drawn to protect the boy, despite the fact that the Forest’s ruler, the wolfish Ogeema, will most certainly want this new Skinless One dead; with the help of a clever but temperamental rat and a faithful dog, Casseomae leaves her territory in search of a safe place to raise the boy herself. This isn’t a warm and fuzzy animal fantasy but a bleak-toned tale of pointed social commentary; the animal characters are deftly drawn, reflecting the strict, heartless survival code that defines their existence, while a few terrifically poignant moments reveal their more benevolent, relatable attributes. Fans of zombie books and other end-of-the-world scenarios will be thrilled by the multiple chase scenes and the death-at-every-turn motif, and the clearly built world and brisk dialogue will make this an easy transition for middle-school readers looking to jump on the YA dystopia bandwagon.”