May's pick for the Classic Read along with the Midnight Garden was Hatchet by Gary Paulsen You can follow along or join in the discussion at http://www.themidnightgarden.net
or #tmgreadalong on Twitter.
Pages: 195 pages
Hatchet is a story of one boys survival in the harsh Canadian wilderness. Not a story about "roughing it in the wild", but a story that feels so real. These are the kinds of stories that scare me the most, the ones that could happen, that just stick with you. Thirteen-year-old Brian is left all alone a bush-plane when his pilot has a heart attack and dies. Desperately trying to find a way to land the plane as safely as possible, Brian ends up stranded in the Canadian wilderness after crash landing. With nothing but the clothing on his back, a hatchet his mom gave him as he was leaving, and his keen resourcefulness, Brian struggles to survive are just beginning.
Brian is an easy character to relate to. A kid who is at first struggling over finding out a "secret" his mom has been keeping that leads his parents to get divorced. To the moment he loses the pilot of the airplane. Brian's reactions were very realistically portrayed. Very chilling, filled with raw emotions. The feeling of helplessness, not being able to do anything, not being able to move or even react. We all think we know what we would do if placed in a dangerous situation, we hope that we would react. But, instead your mind just kind of clicks off. The shock of feeling like your seeing something but not believing. You kind of get frozen, where your just trying to process everything and you come up with all the reasons that what your experiencing can't possibly be happening. In that way, Paulsen really drew me into Brian's story. There was such a roller coaster of emotions Brian was feeling, everything from panic, to screaming, to crying, anger, to acceptance of his situation and beginning to develop a plan.
Brian was also an inspiring kid who is put through a very, very heartbreaking challenging situation. Things are never easy for Brian, he struggles, begins to make some progress, and then is faced once again with the harshness of nature. I think one of the underlying themes of the story is to never underestimate the power of nature. Brian experiences nature in a very raw form. I was literally scared for him in so many situations (run into a bear, moose, bumps in the night). Ahhh, on my seat kind of reading. Like I said, be prepared for a roller coaster of emotions. Brian demonstrates a lot of inner strength and perseverance for a thirteen-year-old. Even though he has his moments of weakness, who wouldn't? He is able to move on by drawing his survival skills from books he read, movies and times he spent with his friends. Even drawing inspiration from his teacher's words about "staying positive, staying on top of things, getting motivated." Although, I don't feel like positive thinking is what gets him through this situation. Brian is also pretty smart, he does an inventory of everything he has and then remembers that his teacher said "you are your most valuable asset. You are the best thing you have." I liked how Brian developed a sort of mantra that he keeps repeating to himself, keep it simple, gather wood, chop wood, keep the fire going, hunt for food etc., even after his shelter is destroyed he has it to fall back on to keep him moving forward. He's very tenacious.
Brian also learns through trial and error and Paulsen never holds back on detailing any of the gory details when things go bad. Somehow, Brian develops an inner courage that he never knew he had, even sensing himself maturing and being changed by the experience of surviving in the wilderness. He really transforms from an insecure teenager to an adult. At one point, Brian notices the differences between the sounds of nature versus those in the city. The silence, complete silence where there is no traffic or sounds of people. Yet, when opening up to really listen "... he heard thousands of things. Hisses and blurks, small sounds, birds singing, hum of insects, splashes from fish jumping." Sounds that Brian would never forget, sounds that meant food, and survival. Sounds that he would always take with him. My only wish for the story was that the ending wouldn't have felt so abrupt, although the afterward did fill in some of the blanks and made for a resolution to the story.
Overall, I thought Hatchet realistically portrayed the struggles of surviving in the wilderness with nothing but your wit, perseverance and a hatchet. A wonderful read for those who enjoy a gripping survival story.