Some books imprint themselves on your mind and stay with you. You can remember vividly where you were when you first read them. Hatchet is one of those books for me. I remember being in Mrs. Alison’s sixth grade class, and this book was raging though the male half of my class like a wildfire. Even boys who usually hated reading couldn’t put it down. Obviously, as the class’s self-proclaimed queen of the bookworms, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. So, when a copy finally made it back to the book cubbies that lined the back of the classroom, I nabbed it. And I totally saw what the fuss was about.
Survival stories have been popular for centuries. Robinson Crusoe, Kidnapped, The Swiss Family Robinson; even The Odyssey had survival aspects. So what was so special about Hatchet? It was the story of a thirteen-year-old plane-crash victim struggling to survive in the Canadian wilderness. Alone. With nothing but his hatchet.
This was a main character who was close to our age. Who was struggling to accept the recent divorce of his parents, which was something that multiple kids in our class were going through, and that the rest of us feared. Who had absolutely none of the knowledge and skills seemingly necessary to make it in the wild. Like the rest of us. Seriously, what middle school kid would actually know what to do if they were dropped in the woods, alone, with no supplies and no tools except for a hatchet? If we’re honest, most of us as adults would have no clue what to do, either. One thing about kids, though; they don’t know enough yet to doubt their ability to survive anything. Kids believe that death doesn’t apply to them, and in some ways that’s the only way one could survive this type of dire situation.
And survive Brian does. But Paulsen doesn’t pull punches; this is not a romanticized survival story, where food falls in the protagonist’s lap and they never get so much as a blister. Brian gets put through the wringer. This poor child get severely sunburned, violently ill from bad fruit, attacked by various forest dwellers, and more. Not to mention the near starvation he is constantly battling.
As a twelve-year-old, this book was terrifying and empowering and completely enthralling. I’ve read it six more times since then, and it’s still all of those things, with a healthy dose of nostalgia thrown in. So thanks, boys in my class, for getting me interested. If you’re a parent, you should definitely get this book for your kids. If you’re still a kid at heart and have never read this, track down a copy. You never know; the things you learn from this book could save your life if you ever get stranded alone in the middle of a forest.