Book: Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet. New York: Atheneum, 1987
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Summary: Brian Robeson is a moody 13 year old who is currently dealing with the after shock of his parent’s divorce. Deciding a change of scenery is necessary, Brian decides to fly up to his dad’s house in Northern Canada. However the pilot of Brian’s plane looses consciousness halfway through the flight and Brian is forced to land the plane in a lake in the Canadian Wilderness. Salvaging only a Hatchet that his mother gave him, Brian is faced with certain death unless he can figure out how to survive on his own in the wild. Learning how to forage for food and build a shelter aren’t the only worries Brian has to face- the elements and predators are also obstacles the Brian has to face. Brian has to learn to ignore the emotional baggage that he has carried around for months and act swiftly if he wishes to survive the deadly wilderness around him.
Themes: Divorce is a major theme of this novel in two different ways. Brian is coping with the effects of his parent’s divorce and is struggling to understand the implications of his mother cheating on his father. He ruminates on this often throughout this book about the repercussions of this separation. Another example of separation in this book is Brian and modern Western society. Totally out of place, Brian is thrown into a whole new world when the plane crashes. This is sort of a fish out of water story, as Brian literally has to learn how to adapt to survive.
Self Reliance is another theme of the book. Throughout the entirety of the book Brian’s ingenuity helps keep him alive. From the first moments of when the pilot loses control of the plane, Brian is forced with the decision to act or passively let circumstances play themselves out. Making shelters, finding food sources, surviving the many obstacles the weather throws at him, or outwitting bears and other predators- these all require Brian’s quick thinking.
Connections: Hatchet has been on just about every YAL list I’ve ever seen. It’s a popular book about quick thinking and survival, which probably makes it a great vehicle to talk about other consequential thinking books, such as Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson. This would also be a great vehicle to show demonstrative writing to students. The many steps involved of demonstrative writing and listing the many consequences of each action are both very necessary skills that students will need to develop before they leave High School.
Reactions: As I said above, this book has made its way into the unofficial list of YAL cannon. I thought it was a decent read. I think the pace was a little slow for me personally, as I’m used to reading much larger novels and this seemed a little simple and straightforward. However I would recommend the book to a Jr. High or High School student looking for a decent read. I would also probably use this in the classroom, I think that good conversation and writing opportunities are available through Hatchet.
Goodreads.com says- “Since it was first published in 1987, the story of thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson’s survival following a plane crash has become a modern classic. Stranded in the desolate wilderness, Brian uses his instincts and his hatchet to stay alive for fifty-four harrowing days.”