Hatchet (Paulsen)

Gary Paulsen, 1987
Simon & Schuster
192 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781416936473

Brian Robeson, 13, is the only passenger on a small plane flying him to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness when the pilot has a heart attack and dies. The plane drifts off course and finally crashes into a small lake.

Miraculously Brian is able to swim free of the plane, arriving on a sandy tree-lined shore with only his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present. The novel chronicles in gritty detail Brian's mistakes, setbacks, and small triumphs as, with the help of the hatchet, he manages to survive the 54 days alone in the wilderness. (From the publisher.)

AAuthor Bio
Birth—May 17, 1939
Where—Minnesota, USA
Awards—3 Newbery Honor Awards; Spurs Award of Western Writers of America
Currently—lives in La Luz, New Mexico

Gary Paulsen writes many young adult coming of age stories about the wilderness. He is the author of more than 200 books (many of which are out of print), 200 magazine articles and short stories, and several plays, all primarily for young adults.

Born in Minnesota in 1939, he was raised by his grandmother and aunts. Paulsen used his work as a magazine proofreader to learn the craft of writing. In 1966, his first book was published under the title The Special War. Using his varied life experiences, especially those of an outdoorsman (a hunter, trapper, and three-time competitor in the 1,150 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race), Paulsen writes about what he knows best.

Much of Paulsen's work features the outdoors and highlights the importance of nature. He often uses "coming of age" themes in his novels, where a character masters the art of survival in isolation as a rite of passage to manhood and maturity. He is critical of technology and has been called a Luddite.

Dogsong, Harris and Me, and The Winter Room, which won the Newbery Honor. Woodsong and Winterdance are among the most popular books about the Iditarod. (From Wikipedia).

Book Reviews
[H]eart-stopping...at every moment Brian is forced to face a life-and-death decision, and every page makes readers wonder at the density of descriptive detail Paulsen has expertly woven together. Poetic texture and realistic events are combined to create...a book that plunges readers into the cleft of the protagonist's experience.
Publishers Weekly

(Grade 8-12) Paulsen tells a fine adventure story, but the sub-plot concerning Brian's preoccupation with his parents' divorce seems a bit forced and detracts from the book.... Paulsen emphasizes character growth through a careful balancing of specific details of survival with the protagonist's thoughts and emotions. —Barbara Chatton, College of Education, University of Wyoming, Laramie.
School Library Journal

Book Club Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Hatchet:

1. What is Brian's state of mind as he heads from New York to visit his father in Canada? What affect does his mother's "secret" have on him? Why won't he tell his father...or his mother that he knows about her affair? How does his mother respond to Brian's moodiness?

2. Talk about Brian's decision to commit suicide—what finally drives him to this point? In what way is he changed by his failed attempt?

3. What inner traits does Brian develop to survive in the wilderness? To which of those qualities do you most attribute his survival? Consider patience, self-control, perseverance.... What else?

4. From the beginnings of literature, stories have pitted man against nature. In what way does Hatchet turn that theme on its head? How does Brian's relationship to nature change during the course of this novel? What lessons does he learn about the natural world?

5. Brian's English teacher once told him that his mind has the power to control his body. In what way has Brian achieved greater harmony between mind and body?

6. At one point, Brian catches a glimpse of his reflection in the lake. What does he see? How has he changed physically?

7. When Brian finds the survival pack, he rejects the rifle. Why?

8. Hatchet is a coming-of-age story—in the extreme. Once rescued and returned to civilization, how has Brian's survival experience changed him? In what way is he a different boy than the one who stepped on the plane at the beginning of the story? How, for instance, does he come to view his parents' divorce?

9. Put yourself in Brian's shoes. How would you fare in his situation? Which personal qualities and skills would you draw upon to survive? Could you survive?

10. What is the significance of the title? Why would Gary Paulsen have chosen "hatchet" as the name of his book? What does the hatchet symbolize?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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