Monday, May 14, 2007

Hatchet

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
$6.99 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 1416936475
The hero of our story is a thirteen year old boy named Paul. His parents are divorced, and while traveling between his dad's house and his mom's, his plane crashes in the unforgiving Canadian wilderness. Unsure when help will arrive, if at all, Paul must survive on his own with a hatchet as his only tool from the civilized world. This book is from the Young Adult section of your local bookstore, so it's light and easy to read. In fact, it's one of the most exciting adventure stories I've read, popular for almost twenty years, and winner of the prestigious Newbery Award.
Interesting food for thought: if you were all alone in the forest with no one around for hundreds of miles, how would you survive? Food is an obvious concern. So are shelter, warmth (Paul doesn't smoke cigarettes, and as such has no matches with him at the time of his crash), and of course, finding some way to contact help and get back home. It'd be a difficult slog for anyone. For a young man like Paul, it's especially challenging. Naturally, he's terrified: he's never had to make a meal more complicated than Easy-Mac. Yet he remains remarkably level-headed for someone so young.
There are all sorts of obstacles, the first of which is how to land the plane after the pilot has a heart attack and dies mid-flight (he's the only passenger). He then has to contend with cold, vicious predators, and the loneliness and isolation of his situation.
Paulsen develops Paul's character really well. He seems like a terrific kid you can relate to no matter how old you are. He catches fish and wild birds for food, eats turtle eggs (gross!) and builds a pretty bitchin' shelter for himself. In spite of all his resourcefulness, there are some setbacks. He gets sprayed by a skunk, for example, which apparently is much more painful than it sounds. The skunk isn't the only wild animal that finds its way to his campsite.
What an adventure this book turned out to be! Ideal reading for a young guy, but still perfectly suitable for an adult. It's also about the right length for a short plane ride (New York to Florida). The theme is rugged, manly, independence and triumph over nature. Teachers have started including it in their classes, because it's quality literature but fun and exciting for kids to read. Like Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe, but without all the old-timey sounding English. I've read it twice, once as a kid and again this week. Highly recommended!

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