Gary Paulsen is well-known for his novels of the outdoors and for being a groundbreaking writer of "guy books," but somehow—perhaps because I'm not a guy—I hadn't read any of his writing until now. And, as usual, I'm sorry I hadn't. His writing is deceptively simple and literary and gemlike, intense nuggets of clear, concrete imagery that bring the reader right into the environment of the main character—in this case, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson, marooned in the wilderness after the crash of a small plane into a lake.
In Hatchet, we're introduced to Brian as he finds himself bruised, concussed, but miraculously alive after the pilot of the small plane he's riding in dies of a heart attack. Brian barely manages to steer the plane to its crash landing site in a forest lake, but then he's left with the knowledge that he has no idea where he is or how he is going to survive. The plane has sunk to the bottom of the lake--pilot, emergency pack, and all. He's only left with the clothes on his back, which aren't much, and a hatchet that his mother had given him.
Little by little, though, Brian figures out how to find food, shelter, and fire; and, against the odds, living from day to day, he does survive. It's a gripping tale, one of those stories that invites you to imagine what you'd do in a similar situation. A sequel, Brian's Winter, follows Brian's story into the harsh, deadly northeastern winter, raising the stakes for his survival, and is just as exciting. However, neither book is one-sided, glamorizing the struggle for life like so many TV series and movies do. It isn't easy, there are plenty of setbacks and failures, and Brian learns a new respect for nature and wildlife as he finds his place within it. One of the hardest lessons he learns is that the price for his own survival is often measured in the lives of other living creatures.
These are very quick and satisfying reads. There are a few more books in the series, too, catching up with Brian a few years later—I definitely plan to read them when I need another dose of adventure.