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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Better than Hatchet! (At least at first)

Mikaelsen, Ben (2001)  Touching Spirit Bear  New York: HarperCollins.

Sometimes my students do their own book commercials and tell me that I NEED to read a particular book.  Ken, who graduated last year, said that this book, Touching Spirit Bear was his favorite, told me I needed to read it right away, and even loaned me his copy (I am looking at it right now -- Ken, wherever you are, stop by sometime.  I'll get it back to you, and thanks!)

So anyway, this book was fantastic -- at least at first.  It dragged a little in the end -- but no matter -- it is still totally worth reading.  Here is the story.  There is this kid named Cole Matthews.  He pretty much hates everyone and everything.  He keeps getting in trouble with the law -- though his rich father's lawyers always seem to get him out of trouble.  One day, for no real reason at all, Cole beats his classmate Peter Driscal so severely that Peter suffers brain damage.  It looks like Cole's anger and stupidity has finally caught up with him, then a social worker offers Cole another chance.  Cole can submit to social justice, a restorative practice in which Cole lets a native American council decide his punishment.    Cole plays along, hoping that if he appears contrite enough, they will go easy on him.  Their recommendation, that he spend a year by himself on a remote Alaskan island. 

And so Cole finds himself stepping off a boat onto an island equipped with a small cabin, and plenty of supplies to see him through  the weekend.  When the boat is gone in the distance, Cole laughs, confident that his years on the swim team will allow him to swim tot he distant shore and escape.  He sets fire to the cabin and swims for shore.  The cold water and the tide are against him however, and he finds himself back on the island, exhausted, without shelter or supplies, and then he hears something in the woods behind him and realizes there is a bear on the island with him.

The book gets better and better after that.  There is action, desperation, atonement, redemption, and resolution.  It isn't perfect, though.  You remember how in Lord of the Rings, after Frodo defeats Sauron, the book goes on for nearly a hundred pages?  The end of this book feels a bit like that.  There is some really interesting stuff about circle justice, but at some point it stops being about the story and keeps on going for a bit. 

But that is a minor flaw.  This book will grab hold of you by the scruff of the neck and not let you go for a good long time.  Excellent for upper middles school through high school (and older).  Go, find it somewhere, and read it.

1 comment:

  1. I taught this to a middle school student who I tutored at his home following his open heart surgery and we found it to be engaging and timely and with enough gore and excitement to keep a young man engaged. There is such a great literary/film tradition of the stranded man vs. Nature.