Patrick Jolly is having a difficult time. His mother is severely depressed following the death of his baby sister and spends most of her time asleep. His father, a wildlife photographer, is away in Scotland on a project and Patrick suspects he took the job to escape home. School is no better. Year seven is proving miserable as Patrick, for no reason he can discern, has become the target for Jake Sutherland and his friends and is bullied daily.
As if all this isn’t enough, he discovers a polar bear asleep in the freezer in their garage.
The polar bear, Monty, is polite, avuncular, prone to quoting Oscar Wilde and relaxed about being so far from home. He is a source of entertaining anecdotes about animals he has known (and on occasion, eaten). While his arrival doesn’t alter the problems Patrick is facing, knowing him brings about a shift. The bear, Patrick muses, always knows what to say, and his relaxed, take things one step at a time outlook is infectious and healing. When Monty strikes up a friendship with Patrick’s grumpy next-door neighbour, who has his own grief to deal with, the three work out a plan to return Monty to the sea and home. Critchley’s book is both funny and touching. It leaves us in no doubt as to the weight of the issues Patrick is facing, but does so lightly, and any messages about recovery or the importance of friendship are delivered in an equally understated way. What’s more, at no point will readers question the plausibility of a talking polar bear climbing out of his fridge, how’s that for an achievement?