There are a lot of books available for teens today. For a smart, discerning young adult, the range and quality of the work has never been better. But I’m often dismayed by the lack of value (my judgment call here) a good portion of the popular literature offers. At least, insofar as what sells best. There are those books that entertain (and they should), and fill an afternoon, but don’t remain. Don’t challenge the teen, don’t teach the teen, don’t inspire the teen – in short, they’re fluff. Like an ice cream sundae soon consumed and soon forgotten. I know as parents, we’re just happy our kid is reading. There are so many who don’t.
That’s why when I find one of those quiet books, that don’t sell phenomenally well but offer something of depth for the soul, I want to highlight it. I read The Ghost of Spirit Bear a few months ago and it is one of those special books that continues to resonate.
The Ghost of Spirit Bear is a sequel to Touching Spirit Bear, a book that is being used in schools to combat bullying. In the first book, an angry and defiant teenager who has severely beaten a school mate chooses Circle Justice over jail. Cole Matthews finds himself exiled to a remote Alaskan island to do penance for his crime. In that year, Cole is mauled by a bear and faces surviving the harsh environment of the north. Alone on the island he faces his demons and takes responsibility for what he did. The Ghost of Spirit Bear picks up with Cole returning to his urban high school and facing all the same challenges that existed before his exile. Bullying is rampant, the school is dangerous, and the administrators don’t care. The rage that Cole conquered on the island begins to return.
The heart of the story concerns how Cole uses the Tlingit wisdom tradition’s teachings in a modern world. During the banishment Cole is forced inward to find out who he is and how to control his emotions. Back in the real world, he must work to maintain his sense of peace and develop a new place for himself. As he holds onto his center, he reaches out to change the negative conditions around him.
I have found very few fiction books for kids that depict a wisdom tradition and expose youth to detailed meditation practices. This is one of them. It is refreshing to see how Cole’s inner transformation becomes externalized and in doing so, changes his world.