Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
From the jacket: “Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present — and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parents’ divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self-pity, or despair — it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.”
My take: When Mikaiya said that she was going to finish off the remaining children’s book readalong we started two summers ago, I figured it was time for me to dust off my unread portion of the list, too. I started with this one because it seemed like it was long enough to be worth taking with me for Metro reading.
Hatchet was an odd book for me. Let me start out by saying I liked it better than I thought I would. It was well-written and the main character of Brian was a realistic, nerdy kid who grew up in the city watching a lot of PBS programming. He’s devastated by his parents’ divorce and by a secret that he believes precipitated it — but that all slips to a level of secondary import when the pilot taking him to his father’s for the summer dies and the plane crashes, leaving him alone to survive in the wilderness.
In the beginning, he does not keep his cool. He does what any of us would do in that situation — he freaks out. But after he realizes that freaking out does not fix the situation, nor does it lessen the energy that will be required to address the situation when he again focuses on it, he starts to use logic and his primitive instincts to cope with the many problems before him — including finding shelter and food.
While I liked the book, it did feel oddly dated. Written in 1987, the book predates the internet and cell phones. That’s fine, because a cell phone would not have been much help to Brian after the plane crashed, and public television substitutes for Wikipedia in shaping his knowledge. However, what really made it seem dated to me were the parts of the novel dealing with his parents’ divorce. They felt very afterschool special-y to me, in a sotto voce “poor Brian … his parents split up” kind of way.
Now, it could just be that I have been a long time away from books that focus on this issue, and that they do, indeed, still deal with divorce in the way they would have when I was a kid (when the book was written, for what it’s worth). In which case the book will not phase modern kids at all. If, however, I’m right, and current authors have found a more accepting way of dealing with the subject, then modern readers may find that aspect a bit off-putting. I don’t think it will affect their general enjoyment of the book or their appreciation of the transformation Brian undergoes, but it’s probably something to keep in mind when recommending it to younger readers.