This short Newbery Honor book, meant for middle graders, is an amazing adventure story that I think is entertaining for all ages.
Brian Robeson is a thirteen year old who is the sole passenger of a Cessna, flying from New York on his way to the oil fields of Canada to spend the summer with his dad. His mother gives him a hatchet as a present, asking him to tie it onto his belt so she can see how it looks. And that hatchet, still on his belt when the pilot has a heart attack and the plane crashes, saves his life.
Brian starts out nauseated, afraid, and pretty helpless. But when he realizes he isn’t going to be rescued any time soon, if at all, he finally comes up with the inner resources to tend to his survival:
“He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work. It wasn’t just that it was wrong to do or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that – it didn’t work.”
He determines what does work, but it’s not easy, and he makes a lot of mistakes along the way. He has to figure out how to get food, water, warmth and protection from bugs, animals, and even the sun, and to prepare for all the unexpected surprises that regularly seem to come up in the wild. The process is riveting, even for adult readers!
Evaluation: I identified totally with Brian in all stages of his personal growth process in this book (although admittedly I could identify with the fear and incompetency phases more than the coping and surviving phases). I was never bored, and learned a great deal. It very much seemed like the story of “Cast Away” (the Tom Hanks movie), only a version for “young people.” My husband read it too: I said, “Oh, just read the first chapter and see what you think.” He didn’t put it down until he had finished it.
Simon & Schuster rates this book as recommended for ages 10-14. Personally, I’d call it “ages ten and up.” The prose is not as felicitous as it might be if written for adults, but if you remember that this tale is designed for middle grade readers, you’ll appreciate the story all the more.
Published by Scholastic, 1987
Newbery Honor (1988)
Young Hoosier Book Award for 6-8 (1991)
Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (1990)
Buckeye Children’s Book Award for 6-8 (1991)
Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (1995)
Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award (1990)
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (1989)
Golden Archer Award (1989)
Soaring Eagle Book Award (1997)
Iowa Teen Award (1990)
Minnesota Book Award (1988)
William Allen White Children’s Book Award (1990)
Bluestem Book Award Nominee (2016)
Virginia Reader’s Choice Award for Middle (1989)
Oklahoma Sequoyah Award for YA (1990)