12 October 2012

Book Review: Hatchet

Title: Hatchet
Author: Gary Paulsen
Publisher/Year: Aladdin Paperbacks / 1987
Source/Format: Swap Site / Print
Date Finished: 27 September 2012
Book # 48

Series Reviews: This is the first in the series...

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

The Short and Sweet of It
Brian Robeson's plane crashes in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, leaving him alone, stranded with only the clothes on his back and a hatchet his mother gave him as a gift. Can he survive?

A Bit of a Ramble
I have some seriously fond memories of this book: a feeling I can't quite describe that has stayed with me for over a decade (I think I last read Hatchet when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, so we are talking almost two decades actually). The idea of a thirteen-year-old making it alone in the wilderness appealed to me, I think in part because the story focused on how it was his wits and creativity which helped him survive, not his physical strength.

What strikes me about the story is how realistic everything feels. Brian's despair over the crash, fear about his survival, elation at his successes, and ultimate resignation with his situation is simply, clearly, and concisely related.

The conciseness of the story really captures the essence of Brian's experience. For example, in many a wilderness story there is an effusion of poetic language regarding the beauty and grandeur of the landscape. A whole bunch of pontificating about the fragile nature of man in the midst of the majesty of nature inevitably follows - or maybe about how a return to nature is exactly what the soul needs. And eventually a single tear is shed in awe of the world. Not so in Hatchet. Here, things are pruned down to their most basic:
There was great beauty here - almost unbelievable beauty. The sun exploded the sky, just blew it up with the setting color, and that color came down into the water of the lake, lit the trees....He did not know if he would ever get out of this, could not see how it might be, but if he did somehow get home and go back to living the way he had lived, would it be just the opposite? Would he be sitting watching television and suddenly think about the sunset up in the back of the ridge and wonder how the color looked in the lake?
And there you have it. What, in total, amounts to 8 sentences, which in other books takes an entire chapter. And the questions are not answered, just posed, without elaboration. There's no need to blah blah blah about it because the depth of the questions and the complexity of the answers exist without the words to explain.

My only complaint is that this tendency towards the concise may have been taken a bit too far towards the end of the story. Things felt a bit underdeveloped to me once NOT QUITE A PLOT SPOILER Brian is rescued. From the rescue to the last word in the book, we only get five and a half pages - with big type - to wrap things up, and I found myself a bit underwhelmed. END OF THE ALMOST PLOT SPOILER Then again, I believe there are four more books in the series, so maybe the depth I am looking for is forthcoming.


  1. I really need to read this. I feel like I missed out on something important in my youth! Someone else reviewed this in the last year or so...maybe Beth Fish. It is on my radar.

  2. I loved this book, and begged my husband to read it. He didn't love it as much, but I think he was opposed to the idea of loving a Middle Grade book! LOL!

    Part of what I loved was that it seemed so much more realistic than all those books in which the person just naturally has survival skills.

  3. That passage you shared really is lovely. Completely agree about the complexity and economy of the writing.

  4. I bought this for my son at a book fair but I don't know if he is ready for it yet. Perhaps I should read it first.

  5. My son really seemed to enjoy this book when he read it several years ago. That passage you quotes is wonderful -- concise, but so rich.

  6. Is this like the boy version of Island of the Blue Dolphins? I'm not into survorist tales, but the quote you pulled was good.

    1. I don't remember Island of the Blue Dolphins...I know I read it, but way too long ago to remember.

  7. Bur why does he look like he has a horn growing out of the front of his head?

    1. Yeah, for the longest time I thought he was like wearing a wolf hat or something.... but it's a hatchet, which, you know, makes more sense than a wolf hat...

  8. I have a lot of memories of this book, too! Glad it met your expectations. I am always worried about re-reading childhood books for that reason.

  9. This book was such an indelible read in middle school. It surprises me how often I think of it.

    Just found your blog and am glad I did! Hello from your newest reader.

  10. The last time I read this book was for my "Mothers in Children's and YA Lit" class, and we had a field day discussing Brian's mommy issues. It sort of colored how I view the book, but you're right, it's good.


Talk to me baby!