Review: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

HatchetThe 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.

Title: Hatchet
Author: Gary Paulsen
Series: Brian’s Saga #1
Publication Date: September 30, 1987
Category: (Middle Grade) Survival

Introduction

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.

Discussion

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.)

Conclusion

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.

oldiessl Canadian

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9 thoughts on “Review: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

  1. I used to read Hatchet aloud to my science classes every year–every class loved it! The sequels are also pretty interesting because Paulsen wrote alternative sequels–I don’t want to say to much and create any spoilers, but he wrote different sequels according to different ways that the first book could have ended.
    There is so much to work with in this book from a class discussion/extension activity standpoint!

  2. Gee, I really would have preferred reading this book during English class instead of Tom Sawyer. This sounds like a really great compelling survival story, and it’s great that the author was able to weave in a lot of character development for Brian into it. And it would also be nice to learn some about surviving in the harsh place that is the wild. Seriously, I need some education. If the human race had all their gadgets and convenient sources of food taken away, I would be struggling quite a bit >_<

    I read the comments above, and it's really interesting that Paulsen made alternate sequels to one book. That's not something I have actually seen done before– though I am sure it has been done many times and I just don't know it. I find this to be really intriguing… It's as if the different sequels are alternate dimensions 😀 Great review, Sophie! Oh, and I didn't know that you were Canadian :O That's so cool! Is it true that many Canadians are bilingual? Someone told me that but I'm not sure…

    • I’ve actually never read Tom Sawyer but want to… I’m guessing you didn’t enjoy it though? And I totally agree on honing survival skills. I guess Hatchet is kind of out-of-date, since I think the first complaint of any thirteen-year-old who gets stranded should be “OMG NO COMPUTER??! :(” Maybe Survival 101 should be right up there beside mandatory P.E. classes!

      Yes, I’m Canadian! I haven’t been using “eh?” or the “ou” spelling for certain words at all, so it’s not as obvious haha. And since French and English are the two official languages in Canada, most Canadians are required to learn both at some point in their lives. (My French really sucks though…)

  3. Haha, I think being a cougar about fictional characters is probably a pretty accepted thing. So many adults, myself included, read YA these days! This sounds like a really well done book and it’s nice that there are sequels to address your lingering questions. I know I like my books wrapped up conclusively so when they’re not, I always hope for sequels 🙂

    • I realized that many adults read YA, but I didn’t actually feel cougar-ish (?) until now. Oh god, this must be how the older Bieber and One Direction fans feel…

      Hatchet wraps up nicely, but there’s so much potential with the character and the backstory that one can only hope for sequels, haha. If it ended as a cliffhanger, I’d probably like the book a little less, so I’m glad it feels like a standalone.

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