Monday, April 21, 2008

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

At its simplest, Hatchet is a story about a boy who finds a way to survive in the wilderness, alone, and with no supplies other than a hatchet and the clothes on his back. And because of the plane crash, he starts with a raging headache, plenty of aches and pains, and, after succumbing to exhaustion as the sun rises, a blazing sunburn.

The challenges Brian faces, the successes and failures, and his ability to take two steps forward only to be thrown three yards back, ought to be enough to hold the attention of most readers. For the most part, it is.

Brian finds food, but nearly gorges himself to death on "gut cherries." He runs terrified from a bear and nearly gets himself between a mama and her cubs. Brian gets eight porcupine quills embedded in his calf and learns that skunks will take your dinner, thank you very much, and no, they will not share. Brian understands the actual size of a moose and the power behind that size. He learns to gather, store, hunt, fish, cook... He learns how to survive. All on his own, with no supplies.

Yeah, that ought to be enough for most readers, but Hatchet is so much more than a survival story. It's a book full of foreshadow and flashback. It has a character who not only learns lessons, but changes. Really changes. Brian changes like a lump of clay becomes a piece of art. At the beginning he is a lump. A wilderness lump. At the end he's a survivor. A woodsman. And Hatchet is full of lessons readers take away from the book - being prepared, dealing with adversity, the value of self-pity, and the power of determination and hope.

Paulsen takes readers down a path they are sure they've traveled before, then takes a previously unseen side trail. "Hey, where're you going?" he asks. "This story's going down this path." Turns out Paulsen's path is exceedingly better than any you anticipated.

Brian's experience continues in The River, Brian's Winter, Brian's Return, and Brian's Hunt. Read Gary Paulsen's real experiences that led to the Brian stories in Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books.

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