Awards: Newberry Honor
Plot: Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is privy to a secret about his parents’ recent divorce, a secret that he carries as he boards a single-engine plane to visit his father in Canada for the summer, with his mother’s parting gift, a hatchet, tucked in his belt. Mid-flight, the pilot suffers a fatal heart attack, and this survival adventure begins. Newbery Honor Book author Gary Paulsen delivers a page-turning and gripping tale of survival and self-discovery, in which the hatchet is central to Brian’s survival. As the story unfolds, Brian survives, accepts his parents’ divorce, discovers his strength, and symbolically buries the hatchet (the secret). When he is ultimately rescued, he is changed.
Reading Level: Ages 10 and older
Review: This survival thriller is a page-turner tour de force, chronicling a 13-year-old boy’s departure on a journey in a single-engine plane to visit his father in the Canadian outback. Before departing, alone with a pilot who would suffer a fatal in-flight heart attack, Brian Robeson’s mother gives him an important gift, a hatchet, a gift that proves instrumental in his 54-day ordeal alone in the Canadian wilderness. The hatchet becomes symbolic of his parents’ divorce, the wedge that “the secret” that he alone bears witness to, and his coming of age. The outcome of this book is obvious, but the self-discovery is beautifully presented, so that ages 10 and older will be hooked. So compelling was this book, that this reader lost herself in the sparse, lean prose and missed her bus stop. I was tempted to call in sick to work to finish the text.