Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Novel)

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Novel) Release date: 1980. Author: Jean M. Auel. Publisher: Crown Publishers. ISBN: 9780553381672.

Plot summary: Ayla is just five-years-old when an earthquake destroys her family’s home, stranding her on her own in the wilderness. The little girl is adopted by Iza after being found by the Clan, a group of Neanderthals that communicate via sign language and guttural sounds. Although Ayla is a Cro-Magnon, and looks and thinks differently than her adoptive people, she struggles to fit in to the Clan society. By Clan standards, Ayla is a hideous little girl, sure to never find a mate that will want to father children with her. As Ayla grows up into a teenager, she learns about healing from her adoptive mother and also learns how to hunt, something that is typically considered taboo for Clan women. After Ayla begins to receive attention for her accomplishments, she incurs the wrath of Broud, the son of the Clan’s leader, Brun. Broud is an unkind, cruel man who repeatedly rapes Ayla. Despite his constant torment, Ayla is thrilled when she becomes pregnant, giving birth to a son. Now Ayla must struggle not only to find acceptance for herself in the Clan, but also for her child.

Critical evaluation: Considered by many to be a classic, The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in Jean M. Auel’s The Earth’s Children series, is a unique novel for teens. Although the main character, Ayla, is a teenager living roughly 18,000 years ago, she still encounters many problems that teens experience today. From the time of her birth she doesn’t feel accepted, and views herself as an outsider. She constantly tries to fit in with the Clan and struggles to prove herself. Many teens will identify with this feeling of not fitting in despite all efforts to do so. Auel also paints a very vivid and enthralling picture of the landscape in which Ayla lives. Her descriptions of the behavior of the Clan, their way of life, language, and customs, though wordy, are enthralling. Teens will be able to relate what they may have learned about Cro-Magnon and prehistoric life to the novel. The Clan characters are also very intriguing, despite the fact that they are what many would refer to as “cave men.” Ayla’s relationship with her adoptive mother, Iza, is very endearing. The novel also deals with issues like teen pregnancy and rape that are still important today. The Clan of the Cave Bear is a novel unlike any other for teens, and one they will likely enjoy.

Reader's annotation: 18,000 years ago, a young, Cro-Magnon girl was stranded from her family following a devastating earthquake. After being adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthals, can this girl, Ayla, fit in to the society of a species that is on its way to extinction?
About the author: Jean M. Auel was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1936. Soon after graduating high school, Auel married her husband in 1954. The couple moved to the Portland, Oregon area where Auel received her MBA in 1976. After finishing her MBA, Auel got the idea to write her first novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear. After a great deal of research spanning a two-year period, Auel completed the novel which was published in 1980. The novel was very popular and later adapted into a movie starring Darryl Hannah as Ayla in 1985. Auel wrote several more novels in the series, The Valley of the Horses (1983), The Mammoth Hunters (1985), Plains of Passage (1990) and The Shelters of Stone (2002). For her series, Auel has received many awards including the Friends of Literature Award in 1981, the Golden Plate Award in 1986, the American Academy of Achievement in 1986 and the National Zoo Award in 1990. The next novel in her series, The Land of Painted Caves, will be released in 2011. (

Genre: Fiction/Historical

Curriculum ties:

Booktalking ideas:
Struggling to fit in
Orphan/losing parents
Teen pregnancy

Reading level/Interest Age:
Age 14+

Challenge issues:

Challenge counterpoints:
Recommended for age 14+.
Recommend parent read novel before child.
Remind parent that novel is not claiming to be factual depiction of evolution.
Recommend parent discuss rape with child.  

Reasons for inclusion:
Critically acclaimed for several decades.
Positive reviews from New York Times Book Review, San Francisco Chronicle.
Winner of several literary awards.

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