I have no survival skills. I have no idea how to build a fire. I couldn’t identify a poisonous plant. I can’t construct a shelter. If I had to do half of the things that Bear Grylls on “Man vs Wild” does, I think I would rather just die. This is why my husband had better be stranded with me after the apocalypse, plane crash, or natural disaster. I would be hopeless. I’d like to think that something instinctual would kick it, but I know that I would most likely bite it pretty fast.
Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet” is the story of a 13-year-old boy, Brian, who finds himself stranded in the wilds of Canada after the pilot who was flying him to visit his father, has a heart attack. He is forced to crash-land and then to survive 50+ days with nothing but his wits and a small hatchet that his mother gave him as a gift. His instinct for survival, things that he recalls learning in school and good old-fashioned trial and error, begin to change him from a 13-year-old boy to a survivalist. The wild shapes him.
The story is told entirely through Brian’s thoughts which accentuate the changes he is going through. He is on the brink of losing his shit, but the drive to survive always pulls him back. It is a glimpse of what man’s first thoughts might have been. He identifies wildlife that is strange to him with his own names. He begins to sense danger on a visceral level. The further he removes himself from civilization, the more he is able to cope in the wild and to become a part of it.
“Hatchet” is one of those award-winning stories often assigned to middle school/junior hight students. I was already somewhat (cough, cough) passed that age when it was written, so I missed the boat. I am glad that it caught my eye, because it is a fantastic little story. I did have some trouble with the writing. Paulsen is prone to incomplete sentences here, so I had to turn off my inner editor. I understand that it may have been a device, since the book consists mostly of the boy’s understandably fragmented thoughts as he works through the process of day-to-day survival, but it was a bit distracting at first. A quick read and an interesting study on what we might be able to overcome in order to survive. I still want my husband stranded with me.