Touching Spirit Bear


Ben Mikaelsen

Number of Pages: 


Minimum grade level: 


Cole Matthews is angry. Angry, defiant, smug--in short, a bully. His anger has taken him too far this time, though. After beating up a ninth-grade classmate to the point of brain damage, Cole is facing a prison sentence.

But then a Tlingit Indian parole officer named Garvey enters his life, offering an alternative called Circle Justice, based on Native American traditions, in which victim, offender, and community all work together to find a healing solution. Privately, Cole sneers at the concept, but he's no fool--if it gets him out of prison, he'll do anything.

But what he doesn't know is a one-year banishment on a remote Alaskan island may be more difficult than he could ever imagine. Does he survive the year and what happens when he is faced with Spirit Bear, will he survive?

Discussion questions

  1. Why do you think Cole is so violent? Where did he learn it from? How can he break this cycle?
  2. What is your opinion of the Native American Circle? Is that a fair way to deal with problems? If you got in trouble, would you want to go through one?
  3. Cole starts carving a totem. What animals or symbols would be on a totem you created to represent yourself?
  4. At what point in the novel do you think Cole starts to take responsibility for his actions?
  5. Do you believe in the spirit bear?
  6. How does the attack by the spirit bear change Cole?
  7. One theme that runs throughout this book is that everything in life is a circle. Where do you see that in the book? Do you believe in that in your own life?
  8. How is the Cole who leaves the island different from the Cole who arrived on the island?

If you liked this book try

  • Dr. Franklin's Island by Ann Halam
  • Far North by Will Hobbs
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Red Midnight by Ben Mikaelsen
  • Zach's Lie by Roland Smith

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.