Often times, when someone thinks of wilderness our naturalist writers, certain names come to mind—London, Thoreau, Abbey, and so on. But until recently, there was one name I had never heard of: Gary Paulsen.
I recently read a profile of Paulsen by Elizabeth Royte (Grumpy Old Man and the Sea: Adventures with Gary Paulsen) on Outside magazine’s website and it immediately reminded me of an old New Yorker profile I once read where a writer was sent to profile Ernest Hemingway and had an unusual encounter that included being summoned in the middle of the night to Hemingway’s hotel rook to watch him write and rant about seeing every sunrise there is to see on the planet. The mind of a mad genius, I suppose. Well, the profile of Paulsen seemed to have that same tone. Paulsen was certainly a man’s man with a lifetime of stories that you can’t seem to believe (I highly encourage you to read the profile). But unlike Hemingway, I had no idea who Paulsen was or what he wrote. So, I decided to check him out. And what better place to start than with his awarding-winning, best known book: Hatchet.
The plot is simple. A 13-year-old boy named Brian takes a flight on a small, single engine plane to visit his father in Canada. During the flight, his pilot suffers a heart attack and the plane crashes. Miraculously, Brian survives with only a hatchet as a tool. Through natural survival instincts and constant trial and error, Brian has to survive and hope that help will eventually arrive.
It’s easy to get pulled into Brian’s plight, picturing yourself stranded by the lake, scared, inexperienced and alone. This is the kind of story I will want my children to read one day. Not because it’s an adventure, but because it teaches the importance of not giving up. When Brian fails at setting a fire or catching a fish, he doesn’t give up and sulk–he keeps going, keeps trying. Every failure is a learning opportunity. He proves that to survive you don’t need much except ingenuity, positivity and perseverance. The lessons learned through Brian’s experience can be beneficial to anyone at any age, but I think it’s incredibly inspiring for young children.
As a Boy Scout leader, I want the boys in my troop to read this. I will even be donating a copy of the book to our Troop library because I feel it’s an essential piece of young adult literature that should be accessible to them. For any other troop leaders out there, I highly encourage you to read the book, learn its lessons and then share it with your scouts. This is the kind of book that won’t get old and will be enjoyable for future generations.
Paulsen writes this story for a young audience, but I can attest that this book can clearly be enjoyed by an adult audience. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy stories of people immersed in the wild, and if you are looking to be inspired. If you have a son, or daughter, around Brian’s age, I highly recommend they add Hatchet to their summer reading list. It’s one of those stories where they’ll learn a lot more than they’ll appreciate at this age, but down the road, Hatchet may be a story they’ll never forget.