Sisters, Secrets and a Mysterious Bear: NJ Author’s Bewitching New Novel

Julia Phillips's Bear is an unforgettable book about the enchantments of the unknown.

Illustration of woman at the beach reading "Bear" by Julia Phillips

Illustration: Kotryna Zukauskaite

Julia Phillips’ second novel, Bear (Hogarth, June 25), tells the story of a pair of sisters who seem locked in a life of quiet desperation.

Sam and Elena live together in their childhood house, caring for their mother as she lies dying upstairs. In an area of majestic natural beauty, the sisters are working-class townies laboring at service jobs, taking care of tourists and more well-off local residents, and fighting off poverty and depression while dreaming of a day they can leave home and begin afresh.

That is, until Sam looks down from the ferry on which she staffs the snack bar and sees the strangest thing: a bear, swimming powerfully through the cold water separating the islands where they live and work from the mainland of Washington State. Before long, the bear is spotted on the sisters’ own island and, suspected in some livestock deaths, gossiped about at the grocery store.

Residents are frightened but excited, the bear somehow enlivening a formerly sleepy and staid existence. When the bear shows up at their house, its bewitching, bewildering presence threatens to break their own fierce sisterly bond.

Phillips’ 2019 debut Disappearing Earth, a finalist for the National Book Award, also centered two sisters in a landscape of treacherous beauty; here they are adults yet sometimes seem as innocent and endangered as orphans in a fairytale.

Phillips grew up in Montclair and attended high school there before studying Russian literature at Barnard College. This summer, sink into the mysterious Pacific Northwest vibes in Bear, an unforgettable book about the enchantments of the unknown wild.

Click here to see all of our summer 2024 beach reads with a Jersey twist.

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