Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book #3: Canada

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Yes, I know, the protagonist is thirteen so this isn’t really YA, but let’s just ignore that.

A boy. A hatchet. Alone in the Canadian forest. It’s about as high concept as you can get. I think all of us, no matter whether we live in a fifty-second floor New York apartment or the jungles of Borneo, can relate to this: the struggle to survive against a Nature that doesn’t care whether we live or die.

Brian must figure out how to survive on his own, and hope that rescue comes soon. He’s up against mosquitoes and bears and poisonous berries as well as thoughts of his parents’ divorce. Everything’s distilled out here into life and death, good and bad choices. What seems important in the world of people is insignificant.

It’s amazing how the entire story can be carried by one character alone in the forest. We get flashbacks, and a brief cameo of the pilot at the beginning, but for the vast majority of the book it’s Brian on his own in the wilderness. It scares me to think of writing a book with only one character carrying all the action. It’s almost like that guy who wrote a book without the letter ‘e’.

But it works. You’re riveted until the final page, and then you go back for more in the sequels. I love that Paulsen wrote Hatchet: Winter, playing with the fluidity of storytelling by changing the ending and making room for an entire alternate-reality book. It’s the same kind of idea as a lot of fanfiction, but more awesome because it’s actually written by the author.

I think the book also catches onto you because it’s about a kid taking control of their life. When I was a kid, I spent hours making secret huts and imagining living in piles of driftwood on the beach. Brian perfects his shelter and actually lives in it, something I could only dream of as a hideaway architect.

I’m not sure I want to be stranded in the middle of the Canadian forest after reading this book, but at least I know to have a hatchet with me at all times.

I wonder if airport security would let me.

Any Canadian books you like?

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