Jamie Bastedo's Tracking Triple Seven is probably the most popular young adult novel ever to come out of the Northwest Territories. High time I've read it.
Tracking Triple Seven is predominately about a barren lands grizzly who has been tagged by biologists operating out of a diamond mine in the Northwest Territories. The tagging collar (numbered 777), is equipped with a tracking device which provides the scientists with information about the habits of grizzlies, and is invaluable in the efforts to avoid human-bear clashes, hopefully preventing either party from getting hurt. It's also about a teenage boy named Benji, the son of the diamond mine owner who's been taken under the helm of the biologists. The idea is that if Benji is on board, he'll help convince his father that the research they are doing is vital and he'll continue to fund their expensive research. It's never quite clear if Benji realizes he is being used in this manner, or if he knows but simply doesn't care: he's enjoying the rush in any case.
The book begins beautifully, with an almost mystical look at the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations. As the reader will soon discover, Triple Seven is about to become a mother grizzly, and so the image becomes even more relevant later on. In the meantime, Bastedo wisely hones the galaxy in; first to solar flares and the Northern Lights, then to a satellite orbiting the Earth, and finally to Triple Seven's collar which sends it signals to relay back down to Earth, to the scientists' computers. It's an almost dizzying cinematic sweep, but wonderfully manages to connect man, nature, and the cosmos.
From here it's hard to get better, and indeed there are a few missteps along the way. One page picked at random highlights my biggest beef with the book:
"Distant boulders stretch like rubber bands into the sky."
"Like a bump-and-grind car crash, the cubs pile solidly into their mother's hairy rump."
"The two smaller cubs try but teeter over like nudged bowling pins."
It's not good when I begin counting similes. Put simply, there are too many and too often the comparisons detract from the natural setting. There were no humans present for the quotes above, no humans who might actually have made such comparisons, and they seemed out of place. What would a bear know about bowling pins? I guess if one was teaching about similes, the book might prove to be a fine resource, but otherwise they're overdone.
What's not overdone is the story of Benji. I think many authors would have made Benji, a southern teenager with a wealthy and powerful father, out to be obnoxious and spoiled, leading to an all too predictable epiphany from his time spent near wild animals. While Benji undoubtedly learns something of himself from his time around Triple Seven and the biologists, Bastedo doesn't ram it down the reader's throat. Plus, Benji is kind of likeable from the get-go. Refreshing.
Tracking Triple Seven felt at times like I was watching Lorne Greene's New Wilderness. Lots of scenes of bear cubs tumbling over one another, food gathering, and threats from male grizzlies, would appeal to any nature lover. For those looking for a human interest angle, there's the stuff about Benji's growing self-awareness. And unexpectedly, there's also a lot about helicopters. It's impossible to live in the Northwest Territories without hearing of the impact that the aviation industry has had on shaping our history, but it seems like with shows like Ice Pilots, it's the winged aircraft that gets all the glory. It's about time the helicopters got their due. (Plus, I rode in a helicopter for the first time this summer and am unashamedly bias towards them now!) It's a wonderful mix, but the bears rightfully steal the show. Despite the ubiquitous similes, I can see why Tracking Triple Seven is destined to become a northern classic.