Gary Paulsen is best known for his 1987 Newberry Honor-winning novel Hatchet. Woods Runner, young adult historical fiction published in 2010, continues Paulsen’s trademark subject matter—themes of nature and a young boy trying to survive.
Woods Runner takes place in 1776, in an isolated area of Pennsylvania. Thirteen-year-old Samuel has grown up amid nature and develops better survival skills than those of his parents, Olin and Abigail, who were raised in cities. The conflict of the story begins when Samuel discovers his family’s cabin has been burned, killing several settlers. Through his tracking skills, Samuel determines that his parents are still alive but have been taken captive. Later, it comes to light that British soldiers with help from Iroquois Indians were responsible for the attack. Thus, Samuel begins his journey to New York with the goal of rescuing his parents.
Samuel is joined by Annie Clark, a young girl he rescues after her parents are killed by mercenaries. They meet allies along the way, including Abner McDougal, a Scottish spy against the British. Samuel manages to rescue his parents through an escape across the Hudson River. However, Paulsen introduces another conflict as Samuel and family journey back home. The suspense reaches a climax when Samuel faces a group of British soldiers in the woods and narrowly escapes with the help of rebel soldiers.
This story follows a classic hero’s journey structure, and young readers may respond to the empowering message of a teen who, rather than needing to be rescued, becomes the rescuer.