I’ll bet a lot of us have seen the poster listing all the things that “Children Learn What They Live.” Too bad Cole Matthews’ parents didn’t pay attention–they might have avoided raising a monster.
To make up for nearly beating another student to death, the Native American “Circle Justice” program in Wisconsin sends the teen, faking his sorrow to avoid jail, to a year on an island in Alaska alone. There he is supposed to learn to survive on his own, and most importantly, tame his explosive rage. After a near-death experience with a massive white Spirit Bear, Cole is rescued but is headed home to jail. However, through the intervention of a dedicated youth counselor, Cole, beaten throughout his life by his father, gets a second chance at redeeming himself. Through hard work and self reflection Cole learns that he must help others if he is ever going to be free of the anger that has controlled his life.
Author Ben Mikaelsen puts readers in the scene. You feel the attack that nearly kills Cole, and squeeze your eyes as he eats whatever is in reach–including a live mouse– to survive.
Circle Justice is a real program that with the right people and the right resources, could save the lives of our most damaged young people far better than having them serve time in juvenile detention facilities or prison. Some Native American experts have called the author’s use of Tlingit customs in the novel as inaccurate, although the tone is clearly respectful.
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