Cover image for Touching Spirit Bear
Touching Spirit Bear
Mikaelsen, Ben, 1952-
Personal Author:
First Harper Trophy edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperTrophy, 2002.

Physical Description:
241 pages ; 20 cm
After his anger erupts into violence, Cole, in order to avoid going to prison, agrees to participate in a sentencing alternative based on the native American Circle Justice, and he is sent to a remote Alaskan Island where an encounter with a huge Spirit Bear changes his life. This gripping, graphic survival story from an award-winning writer paints an unsparing picture of one violent teen and offers a poignant testimony to the power of pain that can destroy and may also heal.
Reading Level:
670 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.3 9.0 45132.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.4 14 Quiz: 24247 Guided reading level: Y.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Y FICTION Young Adult Mass Market Paperback Open Shelf
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Reading List

On Order



In his Napra Nautilus Award-winning novel Touching Spirit Bear, author Ben Mikaelson delivers a poignant coming-of-age story of a boy who must overcome the effects that violence has had on his life.

After severely injuring Peter Driscal in an empty parking lot, mischief-maker Cole Matthews is in major trouble. But instead of jail time, Cole is given another option: attend Circle Justice, an alternative program that sends juvenile offenders to a remote Alaskan Island to focus on changing their ways. Desperate to avoid prison, Cole fakes humility and agrees 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 own anger cause him to examine his actions and seek redemption--from the spirit bear that attacked him, from his victims, and from himself.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-9. Cole Matthews is a 15-year-old, baby-faced con. The child of wealthy, abusive alcoholic parents, Cole has been getting into trouble most of his life. One day, he beats a fellow student so severely the boy suffers permanent physical damage. Mikaelsen's new novel is the story of Cole's redemption; it is also a look at an unusual justice system. Cole's parole officer arranges for Cole to face "Circle Justice," a Native American tradition. The Circle decides that Cole must spend a year, by himself, on a remote Alaskan island. Cole is at first resistant, but he eventually learns much about himself and his anger, and he even finds a way to help his victim. Some may argue that the change in Cole comes too quickly to be realistic, but even students with very different backgrounds will empathize with this tortured bully. As in Countdown (1997), Mikaelsen is at his best when using the story to explain other cultures. An excellent companion to Gary Paulsen's Hatchet (1987) and Allan Eckert's Incident at Hawk's Hill (1971). Marta Segal

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-In Ben Mikaelsen's novel (HarperCollins, 2001), Cole Matthews is a teenager who has always been in trouble, and has had so many "last chances" that he figures he knows how to work the juvenile justice system. When he severely beats another boy, however, his probation officer suggests that he try something called "Circle Justice," a Native American tradition that attempts to heal the victim, the offender, and the community. The Circle decides that Cole should be banished for a year to an island off the coast of Alaska. He goes along because the alternative is jail, and because he figures he can get off the island after all, he's a strong swimmer. Cole is an angry teen who blames everyone else for his troubles his alcoholic parents, his wimpy victim, the "system." Alone on the island, he promptly burns his shelter and supplies. He is mauled by a large white "spirit bear," and nearly dies before he is rescued. This experience, and the subsequent six-month hospitalization, cause a turnaround in Cole's life. The only trouble is, can he convince everyone else that he has really changed and isn't still just trying to work the system? Lee Tergesen brings just the right tone to Cole's voice an angry kid who is trying to figure things out, but still sometimes loses control. This is an excellent recording of a novel that will appeal both to fans of adventure tales and to those who like problem novels.-Sarah Flowers, Santa Clara County Library, Morgan Hill, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Touching Spirit Bear Chapter One Cole Matthews knelt defiantly in the bow of the aluminum skiff as he faced forward into a cold September wind. Worn steel handcuffs bit at his wrists each time the small craft slapped into another wave. Overhead, a gray-matted sky hung like a bad omen. Cole strained at the cuffs even though he had agreed to wear them until he was freed on the island to begin his banishment. Agreeing to spend a whole year alone in Southeast Alaska had been his only way of avoiding a jail cell in Minneapolis. Two men accompanied Cole on this final leg of his journey. In the middle sat Garvey, the gravelly-voiced, wisecracking Indian parole officer from Minneapolis. Garvey said he was a Tungit Indian, pronouncing Tungit proudly with a cucking of his tongue as if saying "Kungkit." He was built like a bulldog with lazy eyes. Cole didn't trust Garvey. He didn't trust anyone who wasn't afraid of him. Garvey pretended to be a friend, but Cole knew he was nothing more than a paid baby-sitter. This week his job was escorting a violent juvenile offender first from Minneapolis to Seattle, then to Ketchikan, Alaska, where they boarded a big silver floatplane into the Tlingit village of Drake. Now they were headed for some island in the middle of nowhere. In the rear of the skiff sat Edwin, a quiet, potbellied Tlingit elder who had helped arrange Cole's banishment. He steered the boat casually, a faded blue T-shirt and baggy jeans his only protection against the wind. Deep-set eyes made it hard to tell what Edwin was thinking. He stared forward with a steely patience, like a wolf waiting. Cole didn't trust him either. It was Edwin who had built the shelter and made all the preparations on the island where Cole was to stay. When he first met Edwin in Drake, the gruff elder took one look and pointed a finger at him. "Go put your clothes on inside out," he ordered. "Get real, old man," Cole answered. "You'll wear them reversed for the first two weeks of your banishment to show humility and shame," Edwin said, his voice hard as stone. Then he turned and shuffled up the dock toward his old rusty pickup. Cole hesitated, eyeing the departing elder. "Just do it," Garvey said. Still standing on the dock in front of everyone, Cole smirked as he undressed. He refused to turn his back as he slowly pulled each piece inside out-even his underwear. Villagers watched from the shore until he finished changing. Bracing himself now against the heavy seas, Cole held that same smirk. His blue jeans, heavy wool shirt, and rain jacket chafed his skin, but it didn't matter. He would have worn a cowbell. around his neck if it had meant avoiding jail. He wasn't a Tlingit Indian. He was an innocent-looking, baby-faced fifteen-year-old from Minneapolis who had been in trouble with the law half his life. Everyone thought he felt sorry for what he had done, and going to this island was his way of making things right. Nothing could be further from the truth. To Cole, this was just another big game. With salt air biting at his face, he turned and glanced at Edwin. The elder eyed him back with a dull stare. Anger welled up inside Cole. He hated that stupid stare. Pretending to aim toward the waves, he spit so the wind would catch the thick saliva and carry it back. The spit caught Edwin squarely and dragged across his faded shirt. Edwin casually lifted an oily rag from the bottom of the skiff and wiped away the slime, then tossed the rag back under his seat and again fixed his eyes on Cole. Cole feipped surprise as if he had made a horrible mistake, then twisted at the handcuffs again. What was this old guy's problem anyway'? The elder acted fearless, but he had to be afraid of something. Everyone in the world was afraid of something. Cole thought back to all the people at home who had tried to help him over the years. He hated their fake concern. They didn't really care what happened to him. They were gutless--he could see it in their eyes. They were afraid, glad to be rid of him. They pretended to help only because they didn't know what else to do. For years, "help" had meant sending him to drug counseling and anger therapy sessions. Every few months, Cole found himself being referred to someone else. He discovered early on that "being referred" was the adult term for passing the buck. Already he had seen the inside of a dozen police stations, been through as many counselors, a psychologist, several detention centers, and two residential treatment centers. Each time he got into trouble, he was warned to shape up because this was his last chance. Even the day he left for the island, several of those who gathered to see him off, including his parents, had warned him, "Don't screw up. This is your last chance." Cole braced himself for the next big wave. Whatever happened, he could always count on having one more last chance. Not that it really mattered. He had no intention of ever honoring the contract he agreed to during the Circle justice meetings. As soon as they left him alone, this silly game would end. Circle justice was a bunch of bull. They were crazy if they thought he was going to spend a whole year of his life like some animal, trapped on a remote Alaskan island. Cole twisted at the handcuffs again. Last year at this time, he had never even heard of Circle justice-he hadn't heard of it until his latest arrest for breaking into a hard ware store. After robbing the place, he had totally trashed it. The police might not have caught him, but after a week passed, he bragged about the break-in at school. When someone ratted on him, the police questioned Cole. He denied the break-in, of course, and then he beat up the boy who had turned him in... Touching Spirit Bear . Copyright © by Ben Mikaelsen . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.