It’s no wonder that Hatchet by Gary Paulsen went on to become an award-winning contemporary classic!
Believe it or not, originally published in 1986, it’s still ranking super high in the Bestseller charts today in the category of Teen & Young Adult Survival Stories.
In fact, this much-loved American novel is the classic survival story to which all others are compared.
Then in 1990, due to the book’s prolific popularity, having sold over 5.7 million copies, the tale was made into a major motion picture, called A Cry in the Wild, starring Jared Rushton.
Here’s a quick recap for you. The central character is thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson, who is going by plane to visit his father following his parent’s divorce.
But, the plane crashes, and with Brian the only survivor, he finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness. Falling into despair, Brian has no choice but to learn to overcome obstacles in a fight for continued survival.
If you love Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, who can blame you? And here are 4 more great survival stories that are sure to grab you: I Am Still Alive, Bad Call, Born Scared, and The Skeleton Tree.
Themes In Hatchet
Man Vs Nature
All of a sudden, Brian (13) is alone in the wilderness, with nothing but a hatchet. He is completely stranded in the middle of nowhere. How is he going to survive? He eventually realizes that nature is his temporary grocery store.
He learns valuable life skills, such as foraging for food, fishing and hunting, searching for shelter, and more. The gist is that he has to learn to work with nature rather than against it.
Teenage Emotions And Mental Health
Written well before the likes of smartphones and Wi-Fi, Brian has zero opportunity to connect with anybody, and no one knows where he is, or even that he’s lost and needs rescuing.
And, as you imagine, it starts to get to him. He is lonely, cold, hungry, and hopeless, and he slips into deep and profound despair. In fact, his mood gets so low, he attempts to take his own life!
But the physical pain stops him in his tracks, and he turns his deep sadness into a determination to succeed, no matter how long it takes.
Important Life Lessons
Like a fable, Hatchet is packed with important life lessons. Brian learns the hard way that when at the depths of despair, self-pity achieves nothing, and instead you should cling to hope, be patient, and above all, persevere.
Brian learns to be self-reliant and learns the true value of effort, perseverance, and how to earn your own confidence.
Books Like Hatchet By Gary Paulsen
Now, this is a book that has a lot in common with Hatchet, there’s a 13-year-old central character, who has to live in the Canadian wilderness.
She was meant to be living with her father, after not seeing him since she was a toddler, and she was just getting to know him before he got left for dead.
Jess is all alone and has to learn to fend for herself, including foraging for food, hunting, and building shelter. Some days things feel really rough for her, and she feels like nature will win over her, but she turns out to be stronger than she had ever imagined.
But she has a very different motivation for her survival than Brian did in Hatchet – she wants to seek revenge on the person who killed her father.
There are great life lessons in this book, as well, while Jess learns to come to terms with her imperfections and finds real resourcefulness and inner strength.
- A taut, gripping page-turner and twisty survival story
- Just like Hatchet, but with girl power and a desire for revenge
- Prominent bestseller in 3 Teen & YA categories
- Some readers found the portrayal of Jess unrealistic
Themes: Man Vs Nature, Teenage Emotions and Mental Health, Important Life Lessons, Revenge, Strong Female Heroine
This is a tale of survival in the wilderness and teenage emotions. Four high school seniors make a pact to go camping, and so they do. However, things go dramatically wrong when there’s a forest fire at their intended campsite.
They decide to follow a treacherous snowy trail where things go from bad to worse. One of the four doesn’t make it back to the piece-of-junk tent, and there may be a bear on the loose.
The remaining three seniors struggle for survival while trying to piece together what has happened. The story tackles secrecy, jealousy, mistrust, unfairness, group dynamics, competitiveness, and conflict issues.
But more importantly, how they can be resolved. There are all kinds of twists and turns as the story progresses, and of course, a very bad call.
- Complex characters, excellent dialog, and character-driven suspense
- Feeling invincible, and naive to the very real dangers of the world
- Excellent backstory and character depiction and development
- Occasionally features swear words
- Quite a bit of bickering
Themes: Man Vs Nature, Teenage Emotions and Mental Health, Important Life Lessons, Tense Group Dynamics, Misguided Decisions
Like Hatchet, Born Scared is the story of a 13-year-old boy who faces challenges alone.
But Elliot’s fear is particularly intense because he has an anxiety disorder (panophobia) that is so severe that he’s lived all his life confined to his home, only knows 3 people, and is reliant on pills.
When he runs out of pills on Christmas Eve, a mix-up at the pharmacy means that his mother has to travel further than usual to get to an alternative pharmacy.
But several hours pass and there is still no sign of her, leaving Elliot no choice but to face his greatest fears and leave the house. There’s a heck of a snowstorm outside, and Elliot doesn’t know his way around.
The reader enjoys tight suspense as Elliot feels his fear grow and there are obstacles to face along the way, and twists and turns keep readers turning the pages at speed. One such twist is the support Elliot has from Ellamay, who is his dead twin sister.
Although the crux of the story is around mental illness, it has a lot to teach readers in general about what it means to be truly afraid, and how even that doesn’t have to stop you from getting where you need to be.
- A gripping, high-suspense novel, with an expertly woven story
- Valuable representation of mental illness in a young adult book
- Lots of interesting sub-plots all the way through
- Some readers didn’t like the ending
Themes: Man Vs Nature, Teenage Emotions and Mental Health, Important Life Lessons, Courage Against All Odds
Here we have a survival tale featuring two 12-year-old boys. Chris is on a sailing trip with his uncle, but the boat sinks, and the only survivors are Chris and a very prickly boy called Frank, who Chris hates.
With no way to communicate with the outside world, the two of them have to forage for food, fish, and scavenge the shore for supplies.
Days get colder and food becomes scarce, but through sheer force of will, the two of them find the strength to just keep going. And despite their difference, the two of them learn compassion for one another and form an unbreakable bond.
- Excellent attention to the rocky relationship and character development and progression
- Emotionally engaging, with superb characterization and a great plot
- Depressing elements, concerning the loss of loved ones
Themes: Man Vs Nature, Teenage Emotions and Mental Health, Important Life Lessons, Working Through Differences
Any book like Hatchet is going to feature survival against the odds, which is a very important thing for juniors, teens, and young adults alike to learn.
Even if these readers never have to survive in the wilderness, these stories can teach important lessons and values, such as never giving up hope, finding grit, and persevering through everything that may come their way.
It can help to prepare youngsters for situations they may have yet to face, but can occur to anyone at any time, such as the deaths of those they are close to, and concentrating on what they have to be grateful for.
These books are raw with real, palpable emotion that has to be lived through, no matter how negative. Sometimes life just isn’t fair, but at no point is the answer to give up. The time we need courage the most is when it’s hardest.
Each one of these books demonstrates this, albeit in different ways, and some of them also tackles mental illness and complex group dynamics.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Hatchet Appropriate For 11-Year-Olds?
Hatchet is frequently taught in the 6th to 8th grades, and the Common Sense Media group recommends it for children and teens aged 10 years and upwards.
Why Is Hatchet Controversial?
In case you missed it earlier, in Hatchet, protagonist Brian hits his lowest low and even makes an attempt on his own life, which has on occasion triggered parents’ objections.