Hatchet

Hatchet

Author: Gary Paulson

Publication: 1987, Aladdin

Pages: 192

Overall Rating:   bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                     

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary: Brian Robeson is a passenger in a small prop plane that crashes deep in the Canadian wilderness.  As the only survivor, he has to learn to make it on his own with nothing to rely on but his wits and the small hatchet his mother gave him before he left.  During the course of the story he has to learn –with no previous wilderness training – how to build a shelter, make fire, and find food all while contending with animal attacks and natural disasters.  And if he can’t do it, he’ll die.

Age of Main Character: 13

What I Liked the Most: Paulson doesn’t pull any punches.  He never gives Brian an easy way out.  Instead, he throws an endless series of challenges at Brian. And the ways he overcomes them, one after another, are always realistic.  Brian doesn’t have crazy survival skills, he isn’t super strong or a natural tracker.  Everything he learns comes through trial and error and the few bits and pieces he picked up watching nature specials on TV.

The end feels abrupt – suddenly Brian’s rescued and it’s over – and at first I didn’t like that.  But the more I thought about, the more appropriate it felt, because it would have been equally abrupt for Brian.  He spends weeks struggling, day in and day out, just to stay alive, and suddenly, in one moment it’s all over.  I thought Paulson captured that feeling very well.

Everything Brian did, everything he experienced, felt real and natural.  It’s clear that Paulson is a real outdoor adventurer, someone who knows how to start a fire with nothing but a hatchet and a rock, how to spear a fish or make bow and arrow.  Nothing felt forced and nothing felt fake.

What I Liked the Least: Paulson has a very unusual writing style.  Some people have described it as poetic, and that may be true, but I think it’s also an acquired taste.  I, for one, had a hard time getting into it.  I almost put the book down in the first 20 pages because the writing style was so jarring, and it took 40 or 50 pages to get to the point where it no longer bothered me.

I’ll share a short passage from early in the book to illustrate what I mean: “And he would normally have said no, would normally have said no that it looked too hokey to have a hatchet on your belt.  Those were the normal things he would say.  But her voice was thin, had a sound like something thin that would break if you touched it, and he felt bad for not speaking to her.”

How Good was the Action?  Excellent. Paulson pulls you into the action, making it very real and immediate.  Whether it’s Brian’s plane crashing, him nearly drowning, an animal sneaking up on him in the night, or a tornado blowing through his camp, it was easy to feel Brian’s emotions as the scene unfolds,  to feel the water closing around his head and the air draining out of his lungs until there was nothing left.   Paulson’s natural talent for writing tense scenes brings Brian’s world to life in a way that few survival stories manage to capture.

How Engaging was the Story?   Quite frankly, Paulson does a tremendous job of keeping the story engaging and drawing us into Brian’s life and emotions.  The book has virtually no dialogue, and except for a few scenes at the beginning and end Brian is the only character.  The entire story takes place through action sequences and trips into Brian’s mind, which Paulson weaves together in a seamless fashion.  It’s a constant back and forth between the challenges that make up Brian’s world and his mental and emotional reactions to those challenges.

Overall Assessment: If you can get past the sometimes difficult writing style, this is an amazing story of survival.  In a way that few survival stories manage to accomplish, it really does lead you to wonder – how would I handle this if I were Brian’s shoes?  Would I be able to survive the same way he did?  And for that alone it’s worth reading.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  Brian kills and cooks wild animals.  He is injured, sometimes badly, in crashes, natural disasters, and animal attacks.  But the descriptions aren’t excessively gory.  Even when he kills and cleans a bird there isn’t blood and gore flowing off the bird’s body and covering his hands or anything.  The bird is food, nothing more and nothing less.

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