What is the most rebellious thing you’ve ever done? Did you smoke pot? Get into your parent’s liquor cabinet? No, wait, I know. You threw a make- out party while Mom and Dad were out of town, then wrecked the car and got arrested for both underage drinking and driving without a license, right? What if the penalty for doing these things was death? What if you would die for these things, only if you were a girl?
This is the story of Ayla, an orphaned child near the end of the Ice Age. At the start of the tale she is no more than five-years-old and her family has died in an earthquake. All alone she walks along the nearby river, able to at least slake her thirst, but unable to find food to cure her consuming hunger. She wanders into the territory of a pride of cave lions and is attacked by one. She is raked by one massive paw on one leg which leaves four parallel scars that she carries her entire life. Between the scratches on her leg which turn septic and the hunger that has gone unsatisfied for days she nearly dies.
But a group of people who call themselves The Clan of the Cave Bear finds her on death’s door. They are Cro-Magnon, but their medicine woman, Iza takes her, heals her and teaches her giving Ayla the status of Medicine woman, descended of the best medicine woman of the Clan. Ayla is raised as a sister to Iza’s daughter Uba. Ayla grows, becoming a young woman, but Iza worries about her lack of menstruation. It is around this time that all this rebellion begins.
Women of the Clan are not allowed to hunt, nor touch any weapon, nor touch any tool used to make a weapon. One day while out collecting medicinal plants for Iza, Ayla sees a hunting lesson, a young boy is being taught how to use a sling. Ayla decides she will try if only to be able to do something that the son of the mate of the leader cannot do. Ayla practices in secret and soon becomes the best sling hunter in the Clan, though, not only does she not know it but no one else does either, and that is the way it must remain. The penalty for a woman who hunts, or touches a hunting implement, is death, so the Clan totems say. But when Ayla is chosen to be one of the women to go along on a mammoth hunt she slips.
A child of one of the other women is attacked by a hyena, and without thinking, Ayla kills the animal using a double stone technique that she invented and perfected. While Broud is grateful that his son is saved, he is incensed that she can hunt, and even more he is furious when Brun makes her death curse a limited one, lasting only one moon cycle. Using her forbidden skill, Ayla lives.
Shortly after her return from “the spirit world”, Ayla becomes a woman, and Broud, the son of the leader’s mate begins to repeatedly rape her. She plummets into a deep depression until Iza tells her she is pregnant. Ayla is now around eleven years old. After an extremely difficult pregnancy, she gives birth to a ‘deformed’ baby, Ayla runs away with her baby to keep him safe, only to return a short time later. Then Ayla goes to the Clan gathering and shows her talent as a medicine woman, and things come to a head.
This is a beautiful growing up story with a very strong female character. I feel that every young woman should read this book. It exemplifies how to think for yourself and be strong, no matter how hard it is to do. Ayla is one of the best literary role models ever written. Five stars.
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