Review of “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen

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.

Rating: 3.5/5

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)

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19 Responses to Review of “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen

  1. Sandy says:

    I like survival stories, which means I ususally like plague and armageddon stories also because there is surviving involved in that too. Maybe I’m storing all this information up just in case? Who knows how my crazy mind works. I’m going to look into this one, and the possibility of audio.

  2. zibilee says:

    I love the sound of this book, and always get enticed by books about survival. The fact that this protagonist is almost a child makes things all the more interesting for me. I think my daughter has this book and has read it more than once, which means that it will be easy to get my hands on a copy! Thanks for your wonderful review!

  3. Ti says:

    The Boy, the non-reader, said that Paulsen was great. He’s read all of his book though so now he is back to the non-reading thing again.

    I heard an interview with Paulsen and he’s such a fascinating guy! Very charismatic! His love of reading stemmed from the positive interaction he had with a librarian. Very similar to what I experienced at the age of 7.

  4. Thank you for your review. I saw this book mentioned somewhere awhile back and meant to tell my nephew and then promptly forgot. I going to email him right now, this is right up his ally.

  5. Amy says:

    I’ll admit tha I probably wouldn’t pick up a book like this on my own. It would have to be sitting in the waiting room of a dr’s office…with a bunch of awful magazine! Ot I’d read a great review …like yours!And now that I’ve read your review I want to know what happens to Brian and how he manages to survive!
    This book sounds scary and fun. Like Brian I would certainly have a bit of a crying jag/pity party at first but hopefully come to the same realization he did., that it wasn’t getting me any where.

    I’m wondering what I can take with me the next time I fly since I’m pretty sute I won’t be allowed on board with a hatchet!

  6. Wallace says:

    I read this in middle school and really liked it. I have no idea what I would think of it now, though. We read it for English class and talked about it all the way through. It helped that I had an awesome teacher who made every class fun (might have influenced my view of the book).

  7. Julie P. says:

    My friend and her daughter (age 10) absolutely adored this book. They even went out right away to get the sequel. I have it sitting here but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

  8. bermudaonion says:

    I’m not sure if my son read this one or not, but it sure does sound good.

  9. My mom read this book to us when we were young, I’ve thought about revisiting it.

  10. Jenners says:

    I could definitely see the appeal of this book! But what kind of mom gives her kid a hatchet as a present? And why isn’t it called “axe”? Is there a difference?

  11. Biblibio says:

    I remember when it came time to read this in school, I begged my teacher to let me read something else. I’d already read Hatchet and had hated it, feeling it lacked so much with the disappearance in dialogue and preferring other child survivor stories to this one. The teacher let me read a much better (adult) Gary Paulsen book and everybody won.

    I wonder, though, why I disliked this book so much. When I read its “sequel”, Brian’s Winter a few years later, I liked it a lot more. I remember feeling cheated by the ending in Hatchet, like just when Brian starts to get over his issues, he’s rescued. It felt cheap. I wonder what I would think if I reread it today.

    • I give this book 5 stars for so many reasons-
      * Paulsen writes what he has lived
      * authentic voice that the kids relate to
      * reluctant readers love this book
      * every kid dreams of being lost and surviving!!

      Gary Paulsen is a HUGE staple in my middle school library and truly is a hit with all ages and boys and girls both!!

    • Paulsen actually wrote Brian’s Winter because so many kids wrote him and wanted to know how the story would turn out IF Brian wasn’t rescued.

  12. nymeth says:

    Now I’m wondering if I should start asking my boyfriend to read “just” the first chapter of books. The Knife of Never Letting Go might be a good one to try this with 😉 Anyway… this one sounds like something I’d really enjoy.

  13. stacybuckeye says:

    I’ve always meant to read this one, but haven’t. Now I’ll probably wait til Gage is older so we can read it togeher. (Yes, I have unrealistic and high hopes to share my love of reading with him!)

  14. Alyce says:

    I read this story when I was in the fifth grade and I loved it! Of course my mom was very worried about me because the cover of the copy I had featured a photo of a boy’s head overlaid with the shadow of a hatchet. She thought it was a horror story. 🙂

  15. Margot says:

    I wish I could say I read this book in fifth grade or even my fifth decade. Oh well. I’m glad it is appropriate for all ages. I love a good survivor story too.

  16. Aarti says:

    My goodness it’s been a while since I visited you here! I apologize profusely for my lapse.

    I have had many conversations (even recently) with people about this book. It seems strange, and I’m not sure if it was only my school, but I swear EVERY YEAR of grade school, we seemed to read some sort of story that centered on bizarre survival situations (such as Hatchet) or about beloved pets that died in the service of their owners. Gary Paulsen was a very popular author in my school and reading this review reminds me of the times my mom would make me watch MacGyver growing up so that I would “learn something” in case I was ever in a situation where I’d need to disarm a bomb in a bank’s safe. I think I went into survival literature reading with the same mindset.

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