In Hatchet, Gary Paulsen offers an adventure and a coming-of-age story in which Brian Robeson learns to think and act independently in very challenging circumstances. The plot follows Brian, a 13-year-old boy who is traveling between his separated parents as a passenger in a small plane when the plane crashes, from his ultimately successful wilderness survival efforts to his rescue and reintegration into the everyday world.
Brian is marked as an extraordinary boy early in the novel, when he manages to guide the plane to a non-fatal crash landing after the pilot has a heart attack and dies. Once he realizes that he is physically unharmed, he takes stock of the situation and identifies a single hatchet as the only tool that will prove useful in surviving. Significantly, this tool was a gift from his mother, about whom he had mixed feelings even before departing.
Thinking logically about food and shelter, Brian builds a clumsy hut and forages on berries, but when they make him sick, he realizes how limited his environmental knowledge is. A porcupine’s attack does not seriously injure him but makes him aware of his vulnerability.
Brian manages to make fire, which will be essential for cooking. He catches fresh food—birds and fish. The larger animals, such as a moose, constitute a greater threat. As days pass, he understands that his chances of survival in this location are diminishing each day and decides to attempt an escape. Determined to maximize use of the few technological resources left to him, he retrieves the survival bag from the plane. Fortunately, he is rescued and so does not have to build a raft.