Hatchet: Our Namesake

Hatchet Book Review

He swung harder, held the hatchet so it would hit a longer, sliding blow, and the black rock exploded in fire. Sparks flew so heavily that several of them skittered and jumped on the sand beneath the rock and he smiled and struck again and again.

There could be fire here, he thought. I will have a fire here, he thought, and struck again - I will have a fire from the hatchet.

-Gary Paulsen, Hatchet

Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co. takes its name from Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The owner of the shop Gene Han loved the book so much that he named his shop after it.

It has been almost 20 years exactly since I last read Hatchet. I remember my 5th grade classroom, the silver seal on the book declaring, "Newbery Honor Book," the young face with dark downcast eyes.

In many ways, its a quintessential survival novel. Brian Robeson is flying in the cockpit of a small single-engine airplane, when the pilot has a heart attack and Brian must make a crash landing in the Canadian wilderness with nothing to his name but the hatchet on his belt and the clothes on his back. He learns how some berries can make you sick if you're not careful. He learns how to make fire. He fashions himself a spear and a bow-and-arrow and teaches himself how to fish and then how to cook the fish. He becomes a target of a large moose and faces a tornado in his spare shelter. 

I liked it then but am surprised to report that I think I enjoyed it more this time. I never realized, at 11, how Paulsen's use of repeated words is an indication of Brian's mental state, and I never realized that as the novel progresses and Brian becomes more and more capable of living in the outdoors, that the repetition stops, as he becomes present in the natural world and un-stuck from his domestic troubles. 

In this way, it's a wonderful coming of age story, not just a compelling adventure/survival novel. It's about a 13-year-old who proves himself to himself through tremendous pain and hardship that Paulsen doesn't gloss over.

Even Brian's mom's infidelity haunts him through the end of the novel, which I take to be a moment of frankness to a young reader that you may need to overcome much in your life, but there are pains that endure.