The plot summary of Hatchet might remind you of the TV show Lost, but I’ve never watched Lost and can only assume that it’s full of vicious predators, missing limbs and a lot of gore, and conspiracies and flashbacks about the real world. Hatchet isn’t as dramatic or corrupted – rather, it’s about one boy who is forced to try to survive in the wild with only a hatchet. Hatchet is an enlightening and engrossing read about self-discovery, nature, family, and societal values, and it reveals the strong survival instincts in all of us if we are thrown into a dangerous situation.
Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is flying from New York City to northern Canada to visit his dad for the summer when the pilot suffers a heart attack. When the plane crash-lands, Brian is stranded in the Canadian wilderness alone, armed with only a hatchet given to him by his mom before he left. As Brian tries to pick up the survival skills he desperately needs, he also has to deal with flashbacks of the Secret that caused his parents’ divorce.
Brian is a realistic character whom I could empathize with. Paulsen’s unique third-person-borderline-first-person narrative allows Brian’s thoughts and actions to be broadcasted in such clarity that, at times, I felt like I was right next to Brian. And sometimes I even felt like I was Brian – his thoughts were my thoughts, his hunger was my hunger, his sense of accomplishment was my sense of accomplishment.
Brian’s actions are also reasonable (and very much admirable in some cases) given his circumstances; he doesn’t talk much, he makes mistakes and learns from them, and his attitude changes throughout his time in the wilderness. And he isn’t super smart or super strong, which makes his struggles more plausible and relatable. Brian grows physically and emotionally as the story progresses, and I really enjoyed watching him develop from a normal thirteen-year-old city boy to a stronger and more independent thirteen-year-old.
The situations that Paulsen places Brian in are ingenious and amazingly detailed and appropriate for Brian’s development. Sometimes Brian fails and sometimes he succeeds, but each situation is a “lesson” that builds upon the previous one. Simple things that you think of about being stranded in the wilderness are things like getting food and finding shelter, but there are so many complications in these simple needs, and Paulsen really goes into detail for each of them: if you find berries to eat, that’s great. But you can’t continuously eat berries and only berries, right? The next step would be meat. What’s the easiest source of meat? And so on and so forth… in a way, the storyline in Hatchet flows seamlessly without difficulty because there are always more “needs”, and once the needs are resolved, there are more “wants.”
Paulsen ends Hatchet on a definitive tone, but I wonder what the changed Brian will do next. Thankfully, Paulsen has written sequels! Can’t wait to read more about Brian – I don’t usually get attached to male characters, but hey, this guy does wonders with a hatchet! (AND he’s probably really fit from hunting down food and protecting his territory, so okay I’m starting to sound like a cougar so I’ll stop.)
Paulsen’s Hatchet features a relatable protagonist, strong character development, and a captivating and exciting storyline. This is for those of you who want to learn how to survive in the wild or want to read about a realistic and life-changing adventure.