Touching Spirit Bear

Touching Spirit Bear

4.3 585
by Ben Mikaelsen

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Will the attack of the Spirit Bear destroy Cole's life or save his soul?

Cole Matthews has been fighting, stealing, and raising hell for years. So his punishment for beating Peter Driscal senseless is harsh. Given a choice between prison and Native American Circle Justice, Cole chooses Circle Justice: He'll spend one year in complete isolation on a remote

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Will the attack of the Spirit Bear destroy Cole's life or save his soul?

Cole Matthews has been fighting, stealing, and raising hell for years. So his punishment for beating Peter Driscal senseless is harsh. Given a choice between prison and Native American Circle Justice, Cole chooses Circle Justice: He'll spend one year in complete isolation on a remote Alaskan island. In the first days of his banishment, Cole is mauled by a mysterious white bear and nearly dies. Now there's no one left to save Cole, but Cole himself.

Editorial Reviews

[Cole's] solitary life on the island is just the ticket for Paulsen fans, who will appreciate the survival story.
Children's Literature
In order to avoid a prison sentence, fifteen-year-old Cole Matthews opts to spend a year alone on an island in Southwest Alaska. This alternative punishment is part of Circle Justice, a healing form of justice that has been practiced by native cultures for thousands of years. But Cole harbors resentment toward the world that no justice can placate. He torches his shelter, destroys his supplies, and then has a run-in with a giant white Spirit Bear that leaves him maimed and badly injured. But has this near death experience helped Cole accept the patience, gentleness, strength, and honesty that is Circle Justice's goal? Cole's parole officer and a Native American elder, Edwin, risk their reputations so that Cole can give the island another chance. Finally, Cole realizes that it is not through anger but through forgiveness that he will find redemption. The author, who lives with an adopted 700-pound black bear in Montana, does not shy away from describing the violent and sometimes gruesome confrontations with man and beast that Cole pits himself against. 2001, HarperCollins, $15.95. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
Mikaelsen tells a gory survival story that evolves into an inspiring and sophisticated coming-of-age journey via "Circle Justice." Cole Mathews blames everyone but himself for his criminal record and violent behavior, but when he agrees to isolation on a remote Alaskan island instead of jail time for his vicious attack on a fourteen-year-old boy, he confronts immovable natural forces and ancient Tlingit Indian wisdom. Cole is mauled by a Spirit Bear he tries to kill. His attitude and injuries abort his first wilderness sentence and focus his second. Physically weakened but mentally prepared, Cole, both criminal and victim, learns that his own healing will take place only when he can heal his spirit by helping Peter Driscal, the boy he attacked. Like Gary Paulsen's Hatchet (Simon & Schuster, 1987), which tells about survival through "tough hope," Mikaelsen's story portrays survival through tough love. Garvey, Cole's parole officer, and Edwin, a Tlingit elder who remains supportive and unrelenting, teach Cole how to build a meaningful life through their expectations, firmness, stories, dances, and personal examples. Their illustrations—bad-tasting ingredients that create a delicious cake, a stick that shows the relationship between anger and happiness, a cooking lesson that teaches the meaning of life—explain a kind of discipline that never deserts the criminal or forgets his crime. Cole's journey to self-realization and truth through hardship, confrontation, and ritual will fascinate young and old, promote fruitful discussion about the impossibility of happily-ever-after endings, and have everyone waiting for the sequel. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marredonly by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, HarperCollins, 241p, . Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Lucy Schall SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2001: At age 15, Cole has already been in and out of police stations, detention centers, and residential treatment centers, but now his violent temper has gotten him into really serious trouble—he's been arrested for smashing a classmate's head to the sidewalk so hard that the boy has suffered permanent damage. The courts are trying to decide what to do with Cole when his youth probation officer, a Tungit Indian named Garvey, suggests Circle Justice. This is a new trial program, a healing contract agreed to by a committee including the victim and his parents, lawyers, and concerned citizens. In Cole's case, they decide that a year alone on a remote Alaskan island would better serve justice than jail would, and so Cole is banished, left with supplies to survive alone in the wilderness. At first Cole tries to escape, and then he attacks a giant white bear, a Spirit Bear, that infuriates him by not showing any fear. The bear mauls Cole badly, and he is eventually rescued. Physical healing takes six months, but the experience has changed Cole, and he is eager to go back to the island and make the most of the opportunity he has been given. He learns from his surroundings, and gradually understands that part of healing is reaching out to help others—in this case, his victim, who reluctantly comes to the island and eventually reconciles with Cole. Not entirely realistic, perhaps, but there's lots of exciting outdoor adventure here, in the style of Gary Paulsen and Will Hobbs. The first half of the book is especially riveting. But Cole's transformation from juvenile delinquent to respectful observer of nature in the second halfwill interest readers too, and the Native American Circle Justice concept, which is now being tried in some U.S. judicial systems, is intriguing. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, HarperTrophy, 287p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-In Ben Mikaelsen's novel (HarperCollins, 2001), Cole Matthews is a teenager who has always been in trouble, and has had so many "last chances" that he figures he knows how to work the juvenile justice system. When he severely beats another boy, however, his probation officer suggests that he try something called "Circle Justice," a Native American tradition that attempts to heal the victim, the offender, and the community. The Circle decides that Cole should be banished for a year to an island off the coast of Alaska. He goes along because the alternative is jail, and because he figures he can get off the island after all, he's a strong swimmer. Cole is an angry teen who blames everyone else for his troubles his alcoholic parents, his wimpy victim, the "system." Alone on the island, he promptly burns his shelter and supplies. He is mauled by a large white "spirit bear," and nearly dies before he is rescued. This experience, and the subsequent six-month hospitalization, cause a turnaround in Cole's life. The only trouble is, can he convince everyone else that he has really changed and isn't still just trying to work the system? Lee Tergesen brings just the right tone to Cole's voice an angry kid who is trying to figure things out, but still sometimes loses control. This is an excellent recording of a novel that will appeal both to fans of adventure tales and to those who like problem novels.-Sarah Flowers, Santa Clara County Library, Morgan Hill, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Troubled teen meets totemic catalyst in Mikaelsen's (Petey, 1998, etc.) earnest tribute to Native American spirituality. Fifteen-year-old Cole is cocky, embittered, and eaten up by anger at his abusive parents. After repeated skirmishes with the law, he finally faces jail time when he viciously beats a classmate. Cole's parole officer offers him an alternative—Circle Justice, an innovative justice program based on Native traditions. Sentenced to a year on an uninhabited Arctic island under the supervision of Edwin, a Tlingit elder, Cole provokes an attack from a titanic white"Spirit Bear" while attempting escape. Although permanently crippled by the near-death experience, he is somehow allowed yet another stint on the island. Through Edwin's patient tutoring, Cole gradually masters his rage, but realizes that he needs to help his former victims to complete his own healing. Mikaelsen paints a realistic portrait of an unlikable young punk, and if Cole's turnaround is dramatic, it is also convincingly painful and slow. Alas, the rest of the characters are cardboard caricatures: the brutal, drunk father, the compassionate, perceptive parole officer, and the stoic and cryptic Native mentor. Much of the plot stretches credulity, from Cole's survival to his repeated chances at rehabilitation to his victim being permitted to share his exile. Nonetheless, teens drawn by the brutality of Cole's adventures, and piqued by Mikaelsen's rather muscular mysticism, might absorb valuable lessons on anger management and personal responsibility. As melodramatic and well-meaning as the teens it targets. (Fiction. YA)

The Bulletin
"[Cole's] solitary life on the island is just the ticket for Paulsen fans, who will appreciate the survival story."
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“[Cole’s story] will fascinate young and old, and have everyone waiting for the sequel.”
ALA Booklist
“An excellent companion to Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Allan Eckert’s Incident at Hawk’s Hill.”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.80(d)
670L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Cole Matthews knelt defiantly in the bow of the aluminum skiff as he faced forward into a cold September wind. Worn steel handcuffs bit at his wrists each time the small craft slapped into another wave. Overhead, a gray-matted sky hung like a bad omen. Cole strained at the cuffs even though he had agreed to wear them until he was freed on the island to begin his banishment. Agreeing to spend a whole year alone in Southeast Alaska had been his only way of avoiding a jail cell in Minneapolis.

Two men accompanied Cole on this final leg of his journey. In the middle sat Garvey, the gravelly-voiced, wisecracking Indian parole officer from Minneapolis. Garvey said he was a Tungit Indian, pronouncing Tungit proudly with a cucking of his tongue as if saying "Kungkit." He was built like a bulldog with lazy eyes. Cole didn't trust Garvey. He didn't trust anyone who wasn't afraid of him. Garvey pretended to be a friend, but Cole knew he was nothing more than a paid baby-sitter. This week his job was escorting a violent juvenile offender first from Minneapolis to Seattle, then to Ketchikan, Alaska, where they boarded a big silver floatplane into the Tlingit village of Drake. Now they were headed for some island in the middle of nowhere.

In the rear of the skiff sat Edwin, a quiet, potbellied Tlingit elder who had helped arrange Cole's banishment. He steered the boat casually, a faded blue T-shirt and baggy jeans his only protection against the wind. Deep-set eyes made it hard to tell what Edwin was thinking. He stared forward with a steely patience, like a wolf waiting. Cole didn't trust him either.

It was Edwin who had built the shelter andmade all the preparations on the island where Cole was to stay. When he first met Edwin in Drake, the gruff elder took one look and pointed a finger at him. "Go put your clothes on inside out," he ordered.

"Get real, old man," Cole answered.

"You'll wear them reversed for the first two weeks of your banishment to show humility and shame," Edwin said, his voice hard as stone. Then he turned and shuffled up the dock toward his old rusty pickup.

Cole hesitated, eyeing the departing elder.

"Just do it," Garvey said.

Still standing on the dock in front of everyone, Cole smirked as he undressed. He refused to turn his back as he slowly pulled each piece inside out-even his underwear.

Villagers watched from the shore until he finished changing.

Bracing himself now against the heavy seas, Cole held that same smirk. His blue jeans, heavy wool shirt, and rain jacket chafed his skin, but it didn't matter. He would have worn a cowbell. around his neck if it had meant avoiding jail. He wasn't a Tlingit Indian. He was an innocent-looking, baby-faced fifteen-year-old from Minneapolis who had been in trouble with the law half his life. Everyone thought he felt sorry for what he had done, and going to this island was his way of making things right.

Nothing could be further from the truth. To Cole, this was just another big game. With salt air biting at his face, he turned and glanced at Edwin. The elder eyed him back with a dull stare. Anger welled up inside Cole. He hated that stupid stare. Pretending to aim toward the waves, he spit so the wind would catch the thick saliva and carry it back.

The spit caught Edwin squarely and dragged across his faded shirt. Edwin casually lifted an oily rag from the bottom of the skiff and wiped away the slime, then tossed the rag back under his seat and again fixed his eyes on Cole.

Cole feipped surprise as if he had made a horrible mistake, then twisted at the handcuffs again. What was this old guy's problem anyway'? The elder acted fearless, but he had to be afraid of something. Everyone in the world was afraid of something.

Cole thought back to all the people at home who had tried to help him over the years. He hated their fake concern. They didn't really care what happened to him. They were gutless--he could see it in their eyes. They were afraid, glad to be rid of him. They pretended to help only because they didn't know what else to do.

For years, "help" had meant sending him to drug counseling and anger therapy sessions. Every few months, Cole found himself being referred to someone else. He discovered early on that "being referred" was the adult term for passing the buck. Already he had seen the inside of a dozen police stations, been through as many counselors, a psychologist, several detention centers, and two residential treatment centers.

Each time he got into trouble, he was warned to shape up because this was his last chance. Even the day he left for the island, several of those who gathered to see him off, including his parents, had warned him, "Don't screw up. This is your last chance." Cole braced himself for the next big wave. Whatever happened, he could always count on having one more last chance.

Not that it really mattered. He had no intention of ever honoring the contract he agreed to during the Circle justice meetings. As soon as they left him alone, this silly game would end. Circle justice was a bunch of bull. They were crazy if they thought he was going to spend a whole year of his life like some animal, trapped on a remote Alaskan island.

Cole twisted at the handcuffs again. Last year at this time, he had never even heard of Circle justice-he hadn't heard of it until his latest arrest for breaking into a hard ware store. After robbing the place, he had totally trashed it.

The police might not have caught him, but after a week passed, he bragged about the break-in at school. When someone ratted on him, the police questioned Cole. He denied the break-in, of course, and then he beat up the boy who had turned him in...

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Meet the Author

Ben Mikaelsen is the winner of the International Reading Association Award and the Western Writers of America Spur Award. His novels have been nominated for and won many state reader's choice awards. These novels include Red Midnight, Rescue Josh McGuire, Sparrow Hawk Red, Stranded, Countdown, Petey, and Tree Girl. Ben's articles and photos appear in numerous magazines around the world. Ben lives near Bozeman, Montana, with his 700-pound black bear, Buffy.

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