Monday, September 17, 2007

wilderness survival

A youth struggling to survive in the wilderness makes for compelling reading, and "Touching Spirit Bear," by Ben Mikaelsen, 2001, is another addition to the genre, with an interesting twist. The wilderness struggle is set up as a juvenile justice experiment. This sort of rehabilitation has been applied in Native American justice, and in this MG/YA novel it is portrayed as being tried for a non-Native American youth offender in Minnesota.

Cole, a violent tempered high school student has badly mauled a classmate in a fight. A chance to avert a jail sentence is offered to him by an experimental Circle Justice council brought in by the court. The Council offers Cole a chance to spend a year in isolation on a deserted island, somewhere in Minnesota, as a means of promoting justice and healing for the criminal offender, the victim, and the community. Cole is interested only in escaping a prison sentence and accepts, though inwardly mocking those trying to help him. While on the island, he destroys the shelter and food he was provided with, and tries to escape, but fails. His rage is directed at a white bear that ventures near his camp, a bear known to Indians in the region as the spirit bear, and he is badly mauled by the bear. After he is found by his Tlingit Indian supervisor who visits the island periodically, he is nursed back to health and elects to return to the island to try and complete his trial. The story is interesting, with compelling wilderness aspects, but the character of Cole, the violent young boy who was beaten by his alcoholic father while growing up, and the father, was a bit flat and stereotypical, though believable.

2 comments:

Bruce said...

Jack,
Interesting... until you used the word "maul" to describe Cole brutally beating a classmate... and the same word, "maul," to describe Spirit Bear beating up Cole... I hadn't seen the plot parallels.

Jack said...

Bruce, your observation puts me in mind of Francine Prose's book, "Reading Like a Writer;" you saw the story connection, and though I hadn't realized it until I read your comment, I'd absorbed it with my review language in just that way. There was a very direct sort of justice circle completed on the island. Thanks for sharing your observation.

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