Marie's Reviews > Touching Spirit Bear

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
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's review
Dec 20, 2008

it was amazing
Read in September, 2008

Touching Spirit Bear Review

Mikaelsen, B. (2001). Touching Spirit Bear. New York: Harper Trophy.

Why the book was chosen
I liked the title, Touching Spirit Bear; it got my attention. On the cover it states, "Can a
mythical bear help a boy beyond human reach?" I am interested in counseling as a profession;
the cover sounded like this session was going to be a challenge. I sure would like to know how a
"spirit bear" helped a boy with his troubles.

Summary/Overview of the book
Cole Matthews was a typical teenager except that Cole carried a violent rage. Peter Driscal
was a victim of Coles'. Peter had turned in Cole for breaking into the school and Peter sustained
one vicious attack from Cole. Cole beat Peter so badly for "ratting" on him that the doctors
questioned if Peter would ever be the same again. Cole Matthews needs to recognize that he
alone is responsible for his own behaviours and actions, but Cole blames everyone around him
for the incident. Cole's father beat him and both of Cole's parents were alcoholics. As an
alternative to a jail term, Cole is offered a chance to take responsibilty for his assault on Peter.
Cole wants to con everyone and thinks only of getting away with his crime by running away from
his place of banishment which was determined by the Justice Circle. He is taken to an Alaskan
island by a proud Tlingit Native named Garvey. Unfortunately, for Cole he meets up with a huge
white bear. Cole Matthews thinks he can take on the bear. Cole learns a grave lesson about taking responsibility, to deal with his anger, to respect nature and that in each action he takes he has an impact on the world.

Specific quotes from the text
"Cole warned Peter...'[You're] a dead man'... he said to the ninth grader" ( p. 7).
"Cole looked up. 'Leaving all ready?' ....Garvey walked thoughtfully around the overturned bed,
than headed back toward the door....I'm tired of being around someone who blames the world for
all his problems" (p. 23).
"As the feather moved from person to person, Cole kept glancing at Peter. The thin red-haired
boy stared at the floor. When it was his turn Peter mumbled, 'I'm Peter Driscal, and I'm hear
'cause I got beat up.' His speech was slow and halting....Cole studied Peter. Peter hadn't sounded
like this before....Besides, this wouldn't have happened if Peter had kept his mouth shut" (p. 40).

My questions, inferences, visual images, thoughts, reactions, feelings, opinions
I have always wondered about the Justice Sentencing Circle process. I often questioned if
it worked. The insight provided in Touching Spirit Bear is awesome. I learned that when it is
done correctly the Youth Justice alternative is beneficial to both the offender and victim. As a
result, it provides healing ultimately to the individuals, family, community, and wider society. I
am excited about the Justice Circle. In the past I was influenced by negative statements
surrounding the issue of youth just getting away from jail using the Justice Circle. I now see it in
a whole new light since reading Touching Spirit Bear.
Re-evaluating the story with reference to values, ideals, beliefs, and/or institutions of Aboriginal
Aboriginal people have a point when it comes to values, beliefs, and the justice institution,that often it is those foundations of basic human relations that get broken down when neglected. Either way the challenge to the justice system is to look at community issues with community
involvement. It makes sense that that is where the justice must occur as it is where we live.
Today I know that natural law can aid in healing. Each person is worthy of being given a chance
to dig deep into the center of themselves and make order to their sense of values, ideals and
beliefs. A person may in all appearances be hopeless by virtue of their actions. We need to look
beyond the characteristics or behaviour and honour the life of every individual.
My transformed thoughts: What is not written in the story but now I am thinking about...
It is a profound thought, that we need more of these justice circles in everything we do.
Justice Circles for Youth can be expanded to reach all areas of life. Acknowledging rather than
denying that the victim needs his abuser to heal is an amazing concept. I am proud and totally
wowed. This book can reach so many youth and families. The message is that it takes time to
form a "totem" hence a "person".
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