Minnesota-native Gary Paulsen has been one of my favorite middle-grade and young adult authors for years. I can’t really remember which of his books I first read, but he’s written a lot of awfully good ones. His characters are always understandable, real, and – mostly – tied to nature in some ways.
His most iconic figure is Brian Robeson, the star of Hatchet. In that book, Brian was a city kid who ended up crashing into the brush when the pilot of the plane he was in had a heart attack and died suddenly. With only a hatchet – no matches, no sleeping bag, and no supplies, Brian taught himself how to live in the wilderness. His personal growth spread over 54 days, and the book become one of the best-received middle-grade novels ever. If you haven’t read it, or your child hasn’t read it, you should.
Brian’s Hunt is the newest book in the five-volume series. Brian is 16 at the time of this novel, and he’s become more certain of himself. He’s out on the lakes in Canada, taking his time to get to the Cree American Indian tribe he became friends with during the course of his adventures. He’s very much a loner, and has even talked his parents and school into letting him try his hand at home schooling himself.
Paulsen’s attention to detail and the ways of nature may prove slow-going to most of today’s young readers (unless they’re already in love with the series), but you can feel the love the author has for such things. I learned a lot about fishing and hunting during the course of the book, though I intend to do neither, and I could tell my ten year old was filing away details while I read the novel to him.
However, Paulsen always delivers on the action in one of his books, and Brian’s Hunt is no exception. Before long, Brian wakes up to find a wounded dog looking for food and for help. Brian gives both, though those scenes are somewhat intense and carry a gross-out factor with them. The scenes are realistic, though, and very well written.
As Brian puts the puzzle of the dog’s mysterious wounds together with her behavior as he hunts, it doesn’t take him long to realize that the dog was mauled by a bear. Once that discovery is made, Brian learns bad news that sets him into the woods after the bear.
The details of how Brian tracks the bear, the skills and the observation necessary, are great. My son and I stayed glued to the pages, though we couldn’t help taking a break every now and again to discuss some facet of hunting lore we hadn’t been aware of. Although the material is mature, it’s written on a level kids can easily understand it, and it’s very honest. But if you have a youngster and you’re thinking about letting him or her read this one, you might want to read it yourself first to make sure it meets with your approval and that it won’t panic or bother your child.
I’m a big fan of Gary Paulsen’s, and this book really hit the spot. At 99 pages it’s a quick, intense read. Although Paulsen said he’d ended the Hatchet adventures after the publication of the last book, I can’t help but be hopeful there will be more. Brian is starting to get interested in a girl, and I want to see how that works out for him.