“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen

195 pp.

Brian’s parents have divorced and he is going to visit his father in Canada, flying in a small Cessna with a middle-age pilot whose name escapes him (Jim or Jake) The trip is alternately exciting and boring until the pilot has a heart attack and dies. Brian tries to call for help over the radio, but he does not know his flight number or location. Eventually his cries are not heard. When the plane runs out of gas, Brian has been preparing mentally to land as close to the edge of the lake as he can manage to steer.

Brian’s survival in the wilderness is never a certain bet. The book depicts the difficulty of his situation. The only useful tool he has is a hatchet his mother insisted he take. Things that work in the movies don’t work for him; whenever something does work, it is though patience and persistence. Lighting a fire or gathering food can take all day. Mosquitoes nearly eat Brian alive; he is sunburned and blistered and always hungry.

Some of Brian’s first food is raw snapping turtle eggs, and the details of his eating them provide a context for understanding what true hunger is. However, he learns new survival techniques each day and become more aware of his environment. Eventually he is able to spear fish and shoot ruffed grouse with a bow and arrow. When a tornado strikes, Brian’s “house” is ruined, and it’s easy to understand how basic live can become.

This is a good tale of maturing, of survival. It is a detailed description of all that Brian must do to continue to exist and seems very realistic. Many students read this one before they get to high school. If you haven’t read it, do so, just so that you have same experience in reading a good adventure book as the rest of your classmates. (It’s a ‘cultural literacy’ thing.) I don’t like when Paulsen seems to imitate Hemingway’s style, but it may appeal to others—and who knows? Maybe there’s a literary criticism essay on ‘style’ just waiting to be written.


About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
This entry was posted in Adventure Stories, Fiction, Hi-Low/Quick Read, Read 180, Young Adult Literature and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Hatchet”

  1. McKenna says:

    I am twelve and have always been an avid reader. I read this book two years ago and loved it. It’s disturbingly realistic and really makes you feel like you are on that island with Brian.

  2. Ms. Waddle says:


    Yes! This would be a better book for a reluctant 12-year-old boy reader. One of my sons is a reluctant reader. We read this book together and he really liked it. (But you still might need a bribe to get your nephew started! 😉 )

    Robinson Crusoe is considered by many literature ‘experts’ (professors, etc.) to be one of the greatest novels of all time–I can see why you liked it. Maybe your nephew would be willing to read it after a few other guy adventure books?? Gary Paulson writes a lot of them. One I really liked was “Dogsong” (I think–it’s about Paulson’s experiences, especially training for and participating in the Iditarod).

  3. Diety says:

    Hmm, I was thinking about tricking my 12 year old nephew into reading one of my favorite books of all time – Robinson Crusoe ( yes, I have to trick him. all he does is play video games …) But the archaic language immediately put him off. Do you think Hatchet could be sort of an introduction to this ?

  4. Ms. Waddle says:

    Yes, it’s a very improbable landing, but the rest of the book depends on it–and lots of that seemed realistic to me. It’s much easier to read than” Into the Wild”, so if you’ve read that, this could be a quick afternoon read in the summer.

  5. Sounds interesting, kinda like lost mixed with into the wild (pardon movie/tv comparison). I might get i even though the idea of him landing by himself seems highly inprobably

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