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Full Text Reviews:
School Library Journal - 02/01/2001 Gr 7 Up-Cole Matthews is a violent teen offender convicted of viciously beating a classmate, Peter, causing neurological and psychological problems. Cole elects to participate in Circle Justice, an alternative sentencing program based on traditional Native American practices that results in his being banished to a remote Alaskan Island where he is left to survive for a year. Cynical and street smart, he expects to fake his way through the preliminaries, escape by swimming off the island, and beat the system, again. But his encounter with the Spirit Bear of the title leaves him desperately wounded and gives him six months of hospitalization to reconsider his options. Mikaelsen's portrayal of this angry, manipulative, damaged teen is dead on. Cole's gradual transformation into a human kind of being happens in fits and starts. He realizes he must accept responsibility for what he has done, but his pride, pain, and conditioning continue to interfere. He learns that his anger may never be gone, but that he can learn to control it. The author concedes in a note that the culminating plot element, in which Peter joins Cole on the island so that both can learn to heal, is unlikely. But it sure works well as an adventure story with strong moral underpinnings. Gross details about Cole eating raw worms, a mouse, and worse will appeal to fans of the outdoor adventure/survival genre, while the truth of the Japanese proverb cited in the frontispiece, "Fall seven times, stand up eight" is fully and effectively realized.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. - Copyright 2001 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.
Bulletin for the Center... - 05/01/2001 Fifteen-year-old Cole Matthews has been in trouble with the law for years, the consequences of his antisocial behavior mitigated by expensive lawyers hired by his abusive but wealthy father. When Cole violently assaults Peter, a fellow student, he is in trouble so deep his father can’t get him out. Garvey, an American Indian parole officer, arranges for the bitterly cynical and devious boy to be tried by Circle Justice, a traditional way of administering justice to the repentant guilty and solace to a wounded community. Garvey and Edwin, a generic wise Indian elder, convey Cole to an island where there is shelter and supplies; he is to remain there alone for a year, contemplating his life. With no intention of staying on the island, Cole burns down the shelter and destroys most of his supplies. After his escape plan fails, he encounters a huge white bear, a Spirit Bear, which severely mauls him. In his pain and delirium, he has a spiritual awakening that convinces him to change his life. Rescued by Garvey and Edwin, Cole recovers, and, determined to make good, he convinces the Circle to send him back to the island. Characterizations are flat and programmatic, with many of the players merely acting as functionaries for the drawn-out, farfetched plot. Cole’s transformation from punk to pilgrim is too easily accomplished, and his parroting of American Indian wisdom is irritatingly earnest; on the other hand, his solitary life on the island is just the ticket for Paulsen fans, who will appreciate the survival story. - Copyright 2001 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
Booklist - 01/01/2001 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). - Copyright 2001 Booklist.