© 1987 Gary Paulsen
Hitching a ride on a small plane to meet his father in Alaska, young Brian is left alone thousands of miles in air when his pilot succumbs to a heart attack. The thirteen-year old is no pilot, but as he numbly sits taking in his perilous condition, he realizes he has to do something if he doesn’t want to perish once the plane runs out of gas and careens into the thickly wooded Canadian wilderness. Taking his life into his hands, learning through trial and error how to control the plane in the air, when the time comes the young boy will guide the plane’s failure with some measure of intelligence, sending it into a lake where he may scramble out into the water and swim for life. Still alone, he must somehow survive in the wild until help can reach him — armed only with native brightness, vague ideas about nature gleaned from various movies, and a little hatchet. Hatchet is the gripping story of a young man’s endurance.
Although eventually rescued, Brian’s summer sojourn in the wilderness is wrought with peril. From the moment he lands, he is assailed by woodland creatures great and small — skunks, porcupines bears, wolves, and clouds of mosquitoes. Struggling against feelings of hopelessness and despair, as well as against repeated injuries — he really doesn’t know what he’s doing — the young man slowly gains the experience and strength of spirit needed to prevail. A boy accustomed to being taken care of his parents must build shelter, must find food, must outwit prey and predators alike. Nothing will be done for him, and he cannot stay still for a moment. Thrust into the struggle for existence, realizing it in full, Brian quickly becomes a woodsman; his senses and memory sharpened by necessity allow him to piece things together, allow him to invent solutions and find resources. Some are encountered only by accident, as when he throws his hatchet at an invasive creature and the tool creates a shower of sparks upon crashing into a flint-flecked stone face. Other lessons he takes from experience, from long hours spent in observation, from series of mistakes. But he learns! A primitive lean-to becomes a more sophisticated shelter, grubbing around for berries leads to fishing and hunting, and timidity turns to courage. This fantastic tale of adapting to the wilderness, of thriving against the elements, is not romanticized, however; even when he creates some measure of comfort for himself, misery and disasters are never far away. It’s an adventure, but one harsh and wild.
The Sea Wolf, Jack London
My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George