Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.


Justin Barker

Young Adult; Memoir; (Market)

Bear Boy is a true-life coming-of-age story of two bears who inspire one boy to stand up for animals, question authority and discover the power of activism. Justin is a typical teenager, dodging school bullies and waging an endless war with his parents. But when he discovers Ursula and Brutus—two sibling black bears being kept in horrific conditions at a nearby zoo—his life begins to change. He finds a cause that ignites his passion and an animal sanctuary willing to take the bears. But there’s a catch: he’ll have to cover the quarter-million-dollar cost. Undaunted, Justin takes his seemingly insurmountable quest to an international audience, gaining media attention and support from celebrities. With television cameras rolling, Justin fights to free the bears, and it turns out himself. Justin Barker’s surprising and moving debut offers the optimism of the ’90s while exploring timely issues of activism, animal rights and being queer with tenderness, unblinking honesty, and heart.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 8.25 out of 10


Idea: This gripping true story, of a young animal activist on a quest to free captive bears, will appeal to environmentalists, animal lovers, and casual readers alike.

Prose: The story is clear, direct, and easy to follow, without feeling simple or boring. There is a well-maintained level of suspense throughout.

Originality: Barker ignored the societal limits of his youth, fighting for animal rights from the time he was in seventh grade. The story’s originality stems from its inspiring unlikelihood and its message to children everywhere: that they can make a difference.

Character/Execution: Barker’s personal journey sometimes feels separate from his work with the bears, but his relationship with his parents, and their fluctuating approval of his activism, is one of the most intriguing parts of the memoir.

Date Submitted: January 29, 2021

Ingrid Newkirk, founder, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

"An empowering story of a young man who discovered his words count, his actions count, and he counts.  This is his story of finding a way to liberate incarcerated bears, Ursula and Brutus, and finding his own identity.  A book changed him and this book may change you.  Delightful in umpteen ways."

Jamie Margolin, cofounder, Zero Hour, author, Youth to Power

"Justin sets an example for what a motivated young person can do to impact their community and the world. This story shows that no person is too young to become an activist and makes me proud of my work in environmental activism. Written with honesty and humor, it's fun to tag along as Justin fights his long battle to save Brutus and Ursula. We need more stories like this." 

Jane Goodall, founder, Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace

"This is a book that will encourage you to follow your dreams, to work hard to achieve a goal no matter how often you are told it is impossible. It is a book that illustrates one of the things I tell everyone—that each of us has a role to play in making this a better world...It is a fascinating and compelling read, a story told in excellent prose with a perfect balance between Justin’s passion for justice, his determination to free the bears, and the problems he went through and overcame along the way...I simply couldn’t put it down"

Jo-Anne McArthur, founder, We Are Animals, author, Captive

"Bear Boy is a beautiful, badass hero. I'm inspired by his creative spirit, and his courage to speak up, stick to his convictions and act on them. I'm  shoulder to shoulder with him in the brighter future he's creating. You should come with—and you should read Bear Boy. This is an epic page-turner."