Monday, October 24, 2011

Touching Spirit Bear

Written by Ben Mikaelsen
Published in 2001 by HarperCollins Publishers

Audience- General

Main Characters- Cole Matthews- angry kid banished to island for Beating Peter.
Peter Driscal- Kid that gets beat by Cole for telling on him robbing a hardware store.
Garvey- Tlingit probation officer
Edwin- Tlingit Elder

Narrative (Who's telling the story?)- Ben. Third Person.

Purpose- There are several purposes: to describe Cole's journey through being an angry, hateful person to becoming more forgiving; to show the readers that they can overcome all obstacles; and to teach the readers that they are part of a bigger circle and to respect nature.

Rating- 5 out of 5 stars. Would very highly recommend.

Length- 287 pages. Can finish in a day.

Sex- No sex scenes. No mention of sex.

Summary/Reaction- Cole came from a very dysfunctional family and felt his parents did not love him. Because of this, he was a bully and was breaking rules and laws. It gets out of hand when he robs an hardware store, and Peter Driscal tells on him. Cole beat him senseless for telling, and because of this beating Peter is hospitalized. He can't walk or talk well. Cole is given a choice- either go to jail or participate in Circle Justice. He decides to participate in Circle Justice.

Circle Justice is a Native American program that promotes full healing. Cole is sentenced to isolation on a remote Alaskan island for one year. He decides that he can just pretend to play the game until Garvey leaves the island. As soon as Garvey leaves, Cole burns down all the supplies and goes to swim away from the island. He doesn't take into consideration the strong current or the temperature of the water, and ends up back where he started. He makes the decision to warm up and wait for the next morning, before trying again.

He makes himself a spear to catch fish, which he later uses in his attack on the Spirit Bear. After he eats, he sees the spirit bear. He feels that it is defying him so he attacks. The bear defended itself, of course by mauling him, and left Cole. That night there was a terrible thunderstorm, and Cole saw a nest of baby birds die. He was angry because he felt that the birds didn't deserve to die. This was the first time he had thought of something other than himself.

There bear had come back while he was laying there, and he tried to spit at it. He felt even angrier with the world. The seagulls were eating his vomit, the baby birds had died, and here was this stupid bear defying him again. Eventually the bear went away, but it hadn't hurt him anymore. Cole knew that the grass and worms he was eating were not enough to keep him alive, and he was glad when he was able to grab a mouse that had walked too close to his hand. He had all his pride stripped from him at this point, and was just starting to give up when he felt himself being picked up and carried. Garvey had returned a few days after dropping him off, to bring more supplies and check on him.

Cole was taken back to Minneapolis to heal from the bear mauling. He felt that he truly had made some changes, but Circle Justice was hesitant to give him a second chance. Why should they believe him now, when he had lied to them before? They decided to give him that chance, but warned him that it would be different and much more difficult.

A year later, he went back to the island with Edwin, after selling all of his possessions to pay for it. Cole had to rebuild the cabin and learn different techniques for letting his anger go, such as carrying the ancestor rock and soaking in the pond. He had to learn that he was part of a bigger circle. He started carving a totem pole as part of the healing process, and to show what he was learning from different animals.

Although Cole was mentally (and physically) healing, Peter was not. Because of the severity of the beating, he could not walk or talk correctly and had tried several times to kill himself. Cole eventually convinced Peter's parents to let him come to the island. They only agreed because Garvey would stay with them as well.

Cole did his best to show Peter his coping techniques and to show that he really was a changed person, but Peter was too angry. Peter beats Cole one day and Cole did not fight back. It was after this that Cole learned that Peter had a talent for carving, as he had carved a very realistic bear onto Cole's totem. Cole asked Peter to teach him to carve like that, and was able to teach him to carve a perfect circle.

This is a very well-written and quite touching book. At different points, I felt I could connect with different characters. It was hard for me to put down once I started reading it. I also really liked that Ben explained what everything was. He didn't just assume that the readers would have the same knowledge he has.

I felt that I was part of the story from the very beginning. It taught me some valuable lessons that I love applying to my every day life. It helped me realize that I too am part of a bigger circle.

I recommend this book without any reservations. I highly enjoy reading it again and again. I love this book, and know you will too.

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