“Ghost of Spirit Bear” by Ben Mikaelsen

01 May


"Ghost of Spirit Bear" is the sequel to "Touching Spirit Bear," which is a staple of many school summer reading lists. In the first book, high school student Cole Matthews is sent to a remote Alaskan island as alternative punishment after brutally beating a weaker classmate. Over the course of that story, Cole, very begrudgingly at first, learns to survive in the wilderness and begin to let go of his anger. His victim, Peter, joins him on the island, and the two gradually become close friends.

The sequel, which will be released in June, continues to follow Cole's journey. While it doesn't have the survivalism and outdoor adventure of the first book, it's still an entertaining and thought-provoking story. Both Cole and Peter are making a rocky transition back to life in Minneapolis. School bullies are still torturing Peter, and Cole can't seem to find a way to fight back without actually fighting. It's a believable struggle, how basically good but damaged kids grapple with incorporating huge life lessons into their everyday existence. It's one thing to embrace meditation and release anger in healthy ways in wilderness solitude; it's an entirely different one to remain calm when a vicious gang is kicking you in the ribs or assaulting your best friend.

After the suicide of a classmate, Cole works with his new principal, Peter, and other students to turn his violent, apathetic school around. I won't reveal Cole's plan, but it relates back to his Alaskan experience. It's the type of small but symbolic change a teenager really could make in his school. I liked that this book shows you what happens after a life-changing moment — which is where so many books leave the story — and how incredibly difficult it can be to make yourself and your life not just different but better. Cole is an authentic, flawed character with moments of bravery, heart, and weakness. His successes are all that more meaningful for the reader, because we do so badly want him to change. While there isn't any outdoor adventure here, Cole's fight to overcome violence and improve himself and his world should be enough to grab readers. Knowledge of the first novel makes this one richer, but "Ghost of Spirit Bear" is an engaging, inspiring standalone novel for middle school boys or any readers interested in social activism.

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Posted by on May 1, 2008 in Uncategorized


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