Cole Matthews is an angry young man. At 15, he has broken into a hardware store; damaged the place; bragged about his crime and severely attacked a schoolmate who turned him in.
This is the latest in a series of violent and antisocial acts on Cole's part. Cole is quite familiar with violence; his own father, an alcoholic beats him at the drop of a hat while his impassive mother does nothing but reach for the bottle.
Jailed and awaiting trial, Cole meets two unlikely allies. Garvey, a Native American parole officer and his partner. The two men suggest Circle Justice, an ancient Native American custom that recognizes the Circle of Life and the Circle as being a metaphor for the Continuum of Life. The first step is to have Cole, the Matthews, the parents of the boy Cole attacked as well as their son and other interested persons in their Minneapolis community. An Elder (or Keeper as she is known) starts the Circle off by insisting on full respect for the Feather; a person may only speak if he or she holds the Feather.
Cole's start is anything but auspicious. The Discals, whose son Cole attacked want him locked away for life; the Matthews appear disinterested in the boy while everyone else encourages the Circle Justice approach.
Cole, Garvey and his partner leave Minneapolis for a remote island off the southeast coast of Alaska. There he is provided with a shelter and the men tell him they will check on him every few days and bring back supplies. Cole burns the shelter that first night and goes off on a tear. A 10-foot white bear lumbers over toward him and Cole is ready to kill it. No match against the beast, the bear mauls Cole, severely injuring him. The men return two days later to find Cole barely clinging to life.
From there, he is transported by skiff to a mainland hospital and from there, to one in Minneapolis. After several months of intensive physical therapy, he is turned over to the juvenile justice system and locked away. Once again, his mentors go to bat for him, dispensing a tough love the boy had never encountered. They are somehow able to secure his release into their custody for Circle Justice, this time at the boy's request.
Once on the island, Cole, quite humbled is ready to follow the instructions of the men and learn to live off the Alaskan wilderness. The men teach him the traditions of the Sacred Dances; to help him release his anger, they have him do an anger dance "but only when he is ready to do so" and to carry the Anscestor Stone up the mountain.
Cole's redemption comes about with the Gift of Forgiveness. He extends himself to Peter Driscal, the boy he nearly killed at the beginning of the story. The road is a Long & Winding Road and the attempts at repair, redemption and recovery (the three R's) make for a very intense story indeed. I like the way an interview with the author and a list of thought provoking questions were included at the end of the story. The story brings to mind the Harry Chapin classic, "All My Life's a Circle" and Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game."
This is an outstanding and very unique book indeed!