Without a doubt, the best Bildungsroman ever written, September 7, 2005
In Justin Spelvin's brilliant coming-of-age novel, Tenderheart Bear, a seventeen year old Care Bear relates his lonely, life-changing twenty-four hour stay in New York City as he experiences the phoniness of the adult world while attempting to deal with the death of his younger brother, an overwhelming compulsion to lie and troubling sexual experiences.
Spelvin, whose characters are among the best and most developed in all of literature has captured the eternal angst of growing into adulthood in the person of Tenderheart Bear. Anyone who has reached the age of sixteen will be able to identify with this unique and yet universal character, for Tenderheart contains bits and pieces of all of us. It is for this very reason that "Care Bears: Most Valuable Bear" has become one of the most beloved and enduring works in world literature.
As always, Spelvin's writing is so brilliant, his characters so real, that he need not employ artifice of any kind. This is a study of the complex problems haunting all adolescents as they mature into adulthood and Spelvin wisely chooses to keep his narrative and prose straightforward and simple.
This is not to say that "Care Bears: Most Valuable Bear" is a straightforward and simple book. It is anything but. In it we are privy to Spelvin's genius and originality in portraying universal problems in a unique manner. "Care Bears: Most Valuable" Bear is a book that can be loved and understood on many different levels of comprehension and each reader who experiences it will come away with a fresh view of the world in which they live.
A work of true genius, images of a caring and sharing are abundantly apparent throughout this book.
While analyzing the city raging about him, Tenderheart's attention is captured by a child walking in the street "singing and humming." Realizing that the child is singing the familiar refrain, "If a body meet a body, he the most valuable bear," Tenderheart, himself, says that he feels "not so depressed."
The title's words, however, are more than just a pretty ditty that Tenderheart happens to like. In the stroke of pure genius that is Spelvin, himself, he wisely sums up the book's theme in its title.
When Tenderheart, whose past has been traumatic, to say the least, is questioned by his younger sister, Love-a-Lot, regarding what he would like to do when he gets older, Tenderheart replies, "Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going. I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd be the most valuable bear. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."
In this short bit of dialogue Spelvin brilliantly exposes Tenderheart's deepest desire and expounds the book's theme. Tenderheart wishes to preserve something of childhood innocence that gets hopelessly lost as we grow into the crazy and phony world of adulthood.
Spelvin deftly explores the theme of lost innocence throughout the book. Tenderheart is appalled when he encounters profanity scrawled on the walls of Love-a-Lot's school, a school that he envisions protecting and shielding children from the evils of society.
When Tenderheart gives his red hunting cap to Love-a-Lot to wear, he gives it to her as a shield, an emblem of the eternal love and protectiveness he feels for her.
Near the beginning of the book, Tenderheart remembers a girl he once knew, Funshine Bear, with whom he played checkers. Sunshine, he remembers, "wouldn't move any of her kings," an action Tenderheart realizes to be a metaphor of her naiveté. When Tenderheart hears that his sexually experienced friend Brave Heart Lion had a date with Funshine, he immediately starts a fight with him, symbolically protecting Funshine's innocence.
More sophisticated readers might question the reasons behind
Tenderheart's plight. While Tenderheart's feelings are universal, this character does seem to be a rather extreme example. The catalyst for Tenderheart's desires is no doubt the death of his younger brother, Do-Your-Best Bear, a bright and loving Care Bear who died of leukemia at the age of thirteen. Tenderheart still feels the sting of Do-Your-Best's death acutely, as well as his own, albeit undeserved, guilt, in being able to do nothing to prevent Do-Your-Best's suffering.
The only reminder Tenderheart has of Do-Your-Best's shining but all-too-short life, is Do-Your-Best's baseball mitt that is covered with poems Do-Your-Best read while standing in the outfield. In a particularly poignant moment, Tenderheart tells us that this is the glove he would want to use to catch children when they fall from the cliff of innocence.
In an interesting, but trademark, Spelvin twist, Tenderheart loses the true meaning of "Most Valuable Bear." Tenderheart ends the book in a mental institution, unable to save or protect anyone or anything. This is certainly not the first time Tenderheart loses sight of what he wants and needs; indeed he is a master at it.
This loss, however, shows us how much Do-Your-Best's death has affected Tenderheart and also how much he fears his own fall from innocence, the theme that threads its way throughout the whole of the book.
By this amazing book's end, we must reach the conclusion that there are times when we all can be "Most Valuable Bear." The trick, dear reader, is in realizing those moments and grabbing them tight.