Publisher's Note:  

After severely injuring Peter Driscal in an empty parking lot, troublemaker Cole Matthews is in major trouble. But instead of jail time, Cole is given an alternative: a one-year banishment to a remote Alaskan island. This program—called Circle Justice—is based on Native American traditions that provide healing for the criminal mind. To avoid serious jail time, Cole resolves to go. While there, Cole is mauled by a mysterious white bear and left for dead. Thoughts of his abusive parents, helpless Peter, and his violent anger cause him to examine the root of his troubled ways.

Author Ben Mikaelson delivers a poignant depiction of the vicious cycle of violence and one boy's journey to healing.

Supports the Common Core State Standards

Touching Spirit Bear

by Ben Mikaelsen

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Overall Review:  

    Fifteen-year-old Cole Matthews is in trouble with the law again. This time he's really injured someone, and he may go to jail. Thinking he's running a good con, he asks instead to participate in Circle Justice, an alternate program based on Native American principles that seeks healing for all involved.
    So now he's banished to an island off the coast of Alaska for a year. In his anger, he burns the shelter built for him by a tribal elder, burns all his supplies, and attacks a bear. He almost dies there, but something begins to change.
    After healing from the mauling he's received, he goes back to the island where he has to rebuild the shelter by himself. But can he really heal if he hasn't helped Peter Driscal who has permanent injuries and is now suicidal.
    Part outdoor adventure, part guide for troubled teens, this book emphasizes responsibility for one's actions, dealing with anger and abuse, and forgiveness and healing.
    Each chapter in the first section has some very exciting action and some back story. In chapter one Cole's left on the island; in chapter two he burns down the shelter; in chapter three, he tries to swim from the island; and in chapter four he's mauled by the bear. The second half of the book isn't as lively, but by then your reader will likely be hooked and want to read on as Cole has to rebuild his shelter and finally learns how to heal.
Reading Level: 5.5, range 3.6-6.8.
Also good for reluctant readers.
Of interest to boys
Awards: Nautilus Award for Young Adult Literature, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Book Sense 76 Pick, and seven state awards

This review has been acquired and adapted from

Content Analysis:  

This review was acquired from on May 15, 2014 and was not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist.  Nevertheless, it contains useful content information which is included here.  The overall number ratings have been approximated based on this information.

G*d; d*mned, h*ll; Cole holds up middle finger at helpers.

Hero beats up boy who turned him in for robbery, when he falls, hero smashes his head against the sidewalk, resulting in "speech and coordination problems," nightmares; only time hero is touched is when someone hits him; tells parole officer he’ll be sorry; hero says he’ll kill Spirit Bear if he sees it, threatens bear when he sees it, picks up knife blade, wants bear to be afraid of him, makes spear to attack bear, goes after bear with spear, planning to kill it, throws spear, bear attacks, knocks him down twice, bites him, arm, pelvis, and ribs broken, quite graphic, hero realizes gulls fighting over his torn flesh; wants to punch parole officer in the teeth; rampages in cell, tipping over bed and hitting the wall; lights his shelter on fire on the island; father repeatedly physically abused hero—one beating quite graphic—after he’s "raw with welts," father hits him with buckle end of belt, hero screams, cries, it’s the only time his mother intervenes, father threatens her but stops the beating; hero looks threateningly at victim, pleased to see him afraid; hero wants revenge on members of Circle Justice; father threatens son, son taunts father, knows he’ll be beaten; victim wants hero’s head smashed "against a sidewalk so he knows how it feels"; hero crushes caterpillar; wants to knock baby birds from nest; wonders if bear will kill him and leave him or eat him, imagines bear killing him; tree struck by lightning, falls near him, sees the dead birds; coughing causes terrible pain; eats live mouse to survive, quite graphic; hero dragged across rocks, feels pain in boat and as he’s taken out of the boat; hero has scars from being mauled; hero learns his father was also beaten by his parents; elder pushes hero to floor to illustrate a point; hero dances dance of anger, acts out his anger at the world, his attack on bear and bear’s attack on him, hits tree repeatedly; mention that victim tried to commit suicide twice, disapproved; victim throws rock at hero, shoves him into stream, shoves him to the ground, saying he doesn’t want hero’s help, tries to get hero to beat him up again, hits hero in the face, says he wants to be killed and doesn’t care anymore, keeps trying to fight hero, hitting and kicking him.

Hero told to turn his clothes inside out "to show humility and shame," undresses in front of villagers without turning around, villagers watch, not graphic, not sexual; hero strips to swim, afterwards realizes he’s lying "nearly naked" on the coals of burned shelter; hero, elder, parole officer, and victim all strip each time before entering pond, not graphic, not sexual; mention of Cole shivering in his underwear in shelter during winter.

Mature Subject Matter:  

Crime, physcial abuse (child), suicide.

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Mention of hero going to drug counseling in the past; father and mother drink, apparently both alcoholics, mentioned repeatedly, disapproved; hero thinks mother drank before a Circle Justice meeting; hero accuses father of drinking all the time, says he’s "usually too drunk to know his own name"; mention that banishment keeps offender away from drugs and alcohol.

Reviewed By CleanTeenReads
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