Touching Spirit Bear ~ Ben Mikaelson

Touching Spirit Bear (Spirit Bear, #1)

Rating: 4/5

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Despite being written by a white man, this book had a lot of really great elements to it. This book was recommended to me by one of my high school students, and I was surprised to find that it was mainly about Restorative Justice practices. We recently started pariticipating in circles at our school to help students have a greater involvement in their community and a greater feeling of autonomy and accountability. Having just learned about circle justice, I was fascinated by a novel that centered around it.

The teen this book focuses on is particularly angsty. It becomes clear that much of his acting out is a show to guard himself, learned behavior as a result of his trauma. This part was way overdone. He is heading to juvenile detention when he is allowed to try out Circle Justice, and continues to make mistakes and be given second chances. All the while he holds on to his anger.

Eventually he participates in the required tasks, and begins to discover ways to manage his anger. This process felt less over the top, and the young man dsicovers that although he can manage his anger, it continues to be work that he will need to do every day. On the days that he does not make the required effort to manage his anger, he feels himself slipping backwards gradually. This is a lesson that all of us learn eventually, although for many of us it takes years or decades. If we take small actions to help us manage our emotions in healthy ways, we will often feel better over time. But when we give in to ignoring our healthy coping skills because they become too hard for whatever reason, it is so easy to slip back into old and unproductive habits.

Overall, a lot happened in this book in a short amount of time. It feels like an appropriate read for middle schoolers, and I believe they may relate to the protagonist with his anger. There’s a lot to learn in these pages. Based on my student’s recommendation, I don’t believe it will feel like too much learning to kids either, which is often what turns them off from reading.

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