Touching Spirit Bear

Touching Spirit Bear

4.3 584
by Ben Mikaelsen

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Within Cole Matthews lie anger, rage, and hate. Cole has been stealing, fighting, and lying for years. His attack on a classmate has left the boy with permanent physical and deep psychological damage and Cole in the biggest trouble of his life. To most, Cole seems beyond hope. But when he's offered a chance at an alternative path called Circle Justice, based on Native…  See more details below


Within Cole Matthews lie anger, rage, and hate. Cole has been stealing, fighting, and lying for years. His attack on a classmate has left the boy with permanent physical and deep psychological damage and Cole in the biggest trouble of his life. To most, Cole seems beyond hope. But when he's offered a chance at an alternative path called Circle Justice, based on Native American tradition, Cole finds himself banished to a remote Alaskan island, where his rage and isolation lead him to another brazen attack. This time, his intended victim is the Spirit Bear of Native American legend—and the clumsy assault ends with Cole mauled nearly to death, desperately clinging to the life he has tried so hard to waste.

Rescuers arrive to save Cole's life, but it is the attack of the Spirit Bear that is the start of Cole's long journey to accepting responsibility for his life and saving his soul.

This gripping, graphic survival story from an award-winning writer paints an unsparing picture of one violent teen and offers a poignant testimony to the power of pain that can destroy and may also heal.

About the Author:
Ben Mikaelsen is the author of a number of award-winning books for young readers, including Rescue Josh McGuire, Sparrow Hawk Red, and most revently, Petey. He lives in Montana with his wife and a 650-pound bear.

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Editorial Reviews

[Cole's] solitary life on the island is just the ticket for Paulsen fans, who will appreciate the survival story.
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
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)
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

Gale Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)
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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Touching Spirit Bear 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 584 reviews.
Sprited-Upp More than 1 year ago
I was told to buy and read this book as part of my summer reading list for pre-Ap English 1, I'm in 9th grade and I absolutley loved this book, at first I read the book expecting the same as any other book, Only doing it for a grade but as I got further into the book I began to enjoy reading it. This book is amazing, touching, thrilling, beautiful, heart-warming and a book that WILL keep you reading, needless to say I now read the book everytime I get bored or just need something to do, I suggest the every parent get's this book for their child and vise-versa... Taryn Danielle
READ-O-LOTS More than 1 year ago
Touching Spirit Bear is truley an inspiring book. What the author is trying to get across in this awesome book is that even though you may feel abondened and as if know one loves you, the author is saying no there is someone that is there that cares for you. The story takes place in Minniapolis,Minnesota but the action takes place on a remote island in Alaska. The only reason I say the action takes place there is because that is where the main charcter Cole Mathews, a young man whose life has been miserable ever since his father would beat him senceless while his mother would simply do nothing and drink away her problems,has an encounter with a mistacle bear. He is sent off to this island for beating up a classmate from school. The motive, he snitched on cole and so cole beats him up bad. I believe this book is best for a young audience because they can relate more to this beacuse they seem to go through problems such as the one portreyd in this book. This book fulfills its purpose by having coles angry heart turned to a soft loving heart. I loved this book from beging to end because i could relly relate to what cole sometimes went through while i was growing up. I totally agree with the message the author gave which is to control your anger with all people. What I liked most was when cole and the person he hurt so bad made up and forgave eachother. This author did an awesome job in my opinion because i really enjoyed this book. Young people I recommend this book I know you will love it just as I did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In 4th grade my teacher read this to my class. Some parts where disturbing but the book is really good. I would read this book over and over and over again. If you are looking for a good book to read, with awesome details. Read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im reading this book right now in school and in chapter 14it got me so engaged into the book i reccomend this book
keeley8 More than 1 year ago
I also had to read Touching Spirit Bear for our summmer reading. I LOVE to read and was thrilled when i got this book. I heard so many things about it from my Language Arts teacher. At first, it took a minute to grasp what was going. But as the story goes on and I got more of a understanding of where he was and how and why he got there, it became more and more exciting. The end of the book ends very very wonderful. Anyone who reads this will definetly be satisfied with the ending. The story is beautifully written. Now, you might think, "how is a story about a violent teen beautiful?" This story really grasp nature and beauty and really deepens into the inner soul. The discription of scenes, thoughts, and feelings all come together as one. Cole's change is astonishing and even gave me a peacful state of mind and the will to change myself. It truley will give a deeper understanding of life. If you ever get the chance to read this, please, read it all the way through. This is a story of a confused teen who changes in the soul and spirit because of one mythical Spirit Bear.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great! I read it for a reading competition and loved it. The author could really paint a picture in your mind. I could see Cole on the island so clearly!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book ever I read it last year in sixth grade
Anmeii More than 1 year ago
Great descriptions, great message. This is a book good for kids and adults.
colemanstudent-emb More than 1 year ago
its my fourth time reading the book and im not much of a reader could not put it down.
SanchezGomez12345 More than 1 year ago
I thought that Touching spirit bear was an amazing book. It covered everything, never left loose ends. It really taught me how much people can change with dedication and good advice. Gary Paulsen fans will love Touching spirit bear its a story of revival and dedication set in a perfect place. I could tell that Ben Mikaelson thought this story through, beginning to end. You have to read this book it will open your eyes and teach you. I hope you will like it as much as i have.
colemanstudent-lrh More than 1 year ago
This was a great story of a young mans passage to adulthood.
Guest More than 1 year ago
"Touching Spirit Bear" is a very good book suitable for kids of all ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Touching spirit is amazing!Great book for finding that "reason to live":) very touching and inspiring, made my cry a little, just a little:) only two words of advice though, READ IT! :)))))
Cesariscool More than 1 year ago
Touching Spirit Bear is one of the best books I¿ve read so far in my life. This book involves a 15 year old, whose name is Cole Matthews, who has been in trouble wit the law half his life. His latest crime has been the worst of all. Cole had attacked Peter; another student at his school. Peter was not only scarred physically but he had been scarred mentally. Peter even comes to a point where he wants to do physical harm to himself.
To help Cole control his anger a parole officer came up with the idea of putting Cole in a program called ¿Circle Justice¿. This program was a healing form of justice used by native cultures thousands of years ago.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read books with lessons and action because it is very well detailed. The biggest reason I like this book is because it shows how someone can make drastic changes after something bad happens to them. Ben Mikaelsen makes a lot of the important events very vivid and it feels as if there was a movie in your head.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i thought that this book was very good. although some of the characters were hard to follow. the auther did a great job. one of my favorite parts was after he was attacked by the bear and what he had to do to survive and realize their was a purpose in life for him. i still dont understand how rolling the stone up the hill everyday helped him in reality but it was still a great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is freaking amazing! My teacher read it for read aloud in class and now we are on the second book. Even though it can be very gory because the author writes this book so discriptive. For all the people that enjoyed this book; read ghost of spirit bear because it is just as good as the first. I loved this book because it doesn't exactly have a happy ending even though it seems like it. You still have yet to go. What happens to peter and cole after the island? Find out in gohst of spirit bear.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Dmonkey More than 1 year ago
I think that this book is good but i think that It's a little graphic but that's kind of good because the author is really descriptive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a seventh-grade reading/language arts teacher who is teaching this book. I had no say in the matter, unfortunately, and I would never have chosen to teach it. It is painfully dull to read with very little action to move the story along. It is riddled with one flashback after another at the beginning of the novel, but it seems forced. In fact, most of the book seems forced. In addition, there are a few questionable scenes involving two grown men and a fifteen-year-old boy, in particular, a scene where the one man swims nude with the boy. Lastly, it is poorly written. The author does not know how to correctly punctuate a compound sentence nor does he know a comma is used to separate two adjectives when describing something. I would avoid this book at all costs—you will dread teaching it, and your students will hate it. This may very well be the worst book I have ever read. It certainly is the worst book I have ever taught.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is really good, intence and disturbing in so areas. Lb :)*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book!!! Clole is a trobled boy. He has stolling many things in his life, and has beaten many people. He blames everone but him self. His father had beaten himto wear he cant even hide the bruses. His mom to drunk to defend her son.One day he stoll from a store. The next day,cops arive and guestion him. He latter finds out that a smart boy, alex, had sniched. After school he cornered alex and smashed his head into a side walk making sure to spite on him. Alex now has perminet brain damage. Cole gets sent to a remote iland in alaska. In one year, he sees life anew. Alex comes to the same iland. As a test to see if cole has changed. When there left alone he aplagises. Alex then beats cole to a polp. Then they start to become friends. I love this book so much!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes, his name is peter not alex...
Anonymous 23 days ago
I loved the book
Anonymous 9 months ago
Amazing and sad book
Anonymous 10 months ago
God is not dead! Help join the movement! This isn't one of those stupid "Kiss your hand 3 times...." things. This os the truth! ~Team Link Hylan forever