“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen
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.