Greg's Reviews > Touching Spirit Bear

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
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Feb 09, 2009

bookshelves: native-americans

Cole Matthews is an angry teen who has been caught stealing and fighting for years. One day Cole runs into a fellow classmate, Peter, and fights him. During this fight Cole smashes Peter's head into the sidewalk and causes permanent brain damage. Instead of jail time or being send to a special home, Cole is offered Circle Justice: a system based on Native American traditions that attempts to provide healing for the criminal offender. Cole plays along with the sentence. It is only after he gets mauled close to death by a mysterious bear of Native American legend that he begins accept responsibility for his actions and change for the better.

I found this book to be very far fetch and unrelateable to suburban teens. It was very disappointing to see how Cole makes a mockery of the Circle Justice and opportunities that he was given. After Cole spends his first few weeks on the island he burns down his only shelter and says "If it weren't for his parents, Peter, and the stupid Healing Circle, he wouldn't even be here." (45). Cole's feeling of the Healing Circle, based on Native American traditions, never seemed to have an impact on Cole and the changes that he made in the end. If Cole Matthews had never been mauled by the bear, he never would have changed.

So I questioned, what was the point of bringing in the "Native American" element into this story? This element made just as much impact on Cole as living on a farm had on Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie on Fox's The Simple Life. It seemed as though a white kid was just dropped into this situation and was just supposed to magically discover himself.

After reading this book I didn't see what a teenager was supposed to learn from it. Yes, Cole was a changed boy at the end of the story, but he was mauled by a bear within inches of his life. I saw this as Cole's sole motivation for change, which is one I don't think I would ever tell one of my troubled students to duplicate.
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message 1: by T. Denise (last edited Mar 14, 2009 08:56AM) (new)

T. Denise Greg,

Your post is very interesting- I have not read this book, but plan to. Is that an award that is listed on the cover of the book? Why do you think it is on the avoid list? You mention in your post that "the book is unrelateable to suburban teens"- what makes you say that? I spoke to my school librarian about the book, who seemed surprised that the book is on the avoid list since it is quite popular. Perhaps this would be a fitting opportunity to present students with the book and have them discuss the book in a literature circle and determine if they agree with your perspective about Cole.

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I agree that "Touching Spirit Bear" is not culturally authentic. I read the review on and the critic said that each of the "Native American" things Cole did to heal were not Native American at all; carrying the rock up the hill, reflecting in frigid water, throwing the rock down the hill, all B.S.
However, I feel that kids can totally relate to Cole's angry issues. There are so many kids everywhere dealing with domestic abuse and develop angry issues themselves because of it.
I think Cole getting mauled by the bear was his "rock bottom". Like people with addictions, kids sometimes need to hit rock bottom before they can get better. "Rock bottom" can be very different things to different people.
The reason Cole mocked the process in the beginning of the book was so that he could rebuild and try again, the next time, all on his own.

message 3: by Knahdiya (new)

Knahdiya i agree cole need to get his life togather and keep it there thats so not fair how he treats nice people

Alaa Ibrahim help me write a paper about how to change cloe's life around? i need help!!! please!! and your review is amazing! :)

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