Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Summary: (Ages 12 and older) Cole Matthews is angry. Angry, defiant, smug--in short, a bully. His anger has taken him too far this time, though. After beating up a ninth-grade classmate to the point of brain damage, Cole is facing a prison sentence. But then a Tlingit Indian parole officer named Garvey enters his life, offering an alternative called Circle Justice, based on Native American traditions, in which victim, offender, and community all work together to find a healing solution. Privately, Cole sneers at the concept, but he's no fool--if it gets him out of prison, he'll do anything. Ultimately, Cole ends up banished for one year to a remote Alaskan island, where his arrogance sets him directly in the path of a mysterious, legendary white bear. Mauled almost to death, Cole awaits his fate and begins the transition from anger to humility.

Ben Mikaelsen's depiction of a juvenile delinquent's metamorphosis into a caring, thinking individual is exciting and fascinating, if at times heavy-handed. Cole's nastiness and the vivid depictions of the lengths he must go to survive after the (equally vivid) attack by the bear are excruciating at times, but the concept of finding a way to heal a whole community when one individual wrongs another is compelling. --Emilie Coulter

Themes: Survival, Tradition, Anger and Redemption, Healing

Classroom Implications: This may be more fitting in the social issues book category, but the symbolic image of the bear compelled me to place it under Fantasy. It makes a good match with Hatchet and Bang!, both being survival stories but in different contexts. It is also a great CONTEMPORARY Native American book to have in the classroom.


No comments: