Wmacdonald's Reviews > Touching Spirit Bear

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
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liked it

This book was recommended to me by a teacher friend who thought it would be a good classroom novel for 5th grade students. I'm undecided on that. The book has some excellent themes including breaking cycles of family violence, forgiveness, healing (both physical and mental), and Native American belief systems which are appropriate for this age; however, the level of violence in the first half of the book might not be. The main character, Cole, is sent to exile on a island in SE Alaska (instead of going to jail) for practically beating another student to death (and causing permanent mental and physical damage to him in the process). While there, he is graphically mauled by a bear, seagulls literally feast upon his flesh, and he must crush the skull of a mouse in his jaw to get sustenance for his rapidly declining health situation. It was pretty brutal for a young adult novel. The second half of the book, dealing with Cole's healing and his attempts to make things right with his victim, are well done, if lacking in subtleness. Mikaelsen tends to beat the reader over the head with his metaphors (helpless birds, physical wounds standing for emotional wounds, spirit animals that only appear during meditative states, etc.). Yes, there is even a wise, Native American elder who drops all sorts of wisdom on Cole. That being said, this book kept me turning pages the whole day and I found the story enjoyable and engaging. Bottom line: I liked it and think it would work well in the classroom in that it has the potential to generate strong discussion and aligns with several teaching points. However, it would be a hard sell to the school board and/or parents.

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