Book Review: Hatchet

Rating: ★★★☆☆

A riveting, can’t-put-it-down story of a boy’s survival in the Canadian wilderness for two months, after crash-landing a small plane when the pilot dies of a heart attack.  Very well written, this could be a modern Robinson Crusoe story with a protagonist young enough for its target age to identify with.  Brian shows courage, resolve, and creativity in facing the dangers and challenges of his situation, and the ending is quite satisfying.

Unfortunately, a sub-plot of the story is that Brian’s mother is having an affair, which has led to his parents’ divorce.  Before the divorce, Brian witnesses a scene he calls “the Secret,” which troubles him repeatedly: his mother kissing another man.  This betrayal is dealt with by repression, as Brian decides that crying “doesn’t work” to help him survive.  He instead focuses entirely on his physical survival, deciding that “food is all” (129).  At the story’s close his parents remain divorced, his mother continues her affair, and Brian never discloses “the Secret” to his father.  This troubling element of the plot might introduce suspicion and insecurity to vulnerable readers.

Another troubling element is the way in which Brian rather mystically becomes part of the wild landscape.  In an encounter with a wolf (121), the author writes that he was not afraid because he “knew the wolf for what it was — another part of the woods, another part of all of it… He knew the wolf now, as the wolf knew him, and he nodded to it, nodded and smiled.”  In another scene, unpacking a survival pack which he salvaged from the wrecked plane, he experiences uneasiness at holding a gun (186), because he feels it distances him from his surroundings: “Without the rifle he had to fit in, to be part of it all, to understand it and use it — the woods, all of it.  With the rifle, suddenly, he didn’t have to know; did not have to be afraid or understand… The rifle changed him, the moment he picked it up, and he wasn’t sure he liked the change.”

These two scenes seem to reflect an ideal of human-animal equality, which denies the Biblical command to dominion and stewardship.  The assumption is that for a human to really understand the natural world he must descend to the level of the animals.  The exercise of power, by this way of thinking, necessarily introduces distance between humanity and the natural world.  This ideal is in direct contradiction to the Biblical mandate for humans to care for the earth as its rulers, the crown of God’s creation.

Although it is memorably well-written, the sub-plot of parental infidelity and the unbiblical perspective on humanity’s place in the created order make this a book I would recommend only with caution.

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Publication Information: Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet. . 1988. ISBN: 0027701301.
Categories: 3 Stars, Age 12-16, Books That Build Character, What Stories Does My Son Need
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Posted on April 7, 2009

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