by Gary Paulsen
Brian Robeson, aged 13, thinks it's tough having divorced parents. He thinks it's tough having to fly from New York to northern Canada to visit his father over the summer. He doesn't find out what tough is until the pilot of a single-engine Cessna dies of a heart attack right beside him. Brian finds himself alone at 70,000 feet, with no idea where he is and no one on the radio to help him land the plane.
Considering that he lives through the crash, I suppose he does all right. But then he has to keep on living. With nothing but the clothes on his back and a hatchet his mother had given him as a parting gift, he has to scratch a living out of the Canadian wilderness. That's when he finds out what tough is. He is.
This is the story of Brian's fifty-four-day ordeal. Aided by nothing but a hatchet and the will to survive, even after he knows the search for him has been called off, he holds off starvation. He survives encounters with bears, a porcupine, a skunk, a wolf, and (most terrifying of all) a moose. He learns to make fire, shelter, and weapons so that he can hunt and fish. He makes mistakes that nearly cost him his life. He becomes attuned to the sounds, smells, and visual details around him: a human survival machine.
And then the tornado sweeps through his camp and gives him one, final opportunity to choose between life and death. The outcome is so surprising that it may seem abrupt. Just when it looked like an interesting new chapter might be opening for Brian, the story ends in a way that, evidently, many of the book's original fans didn't like. Though it received a Newbery Honor in 1988, and already had a sequel (The River), the book's fans prevailed on its author to provide an alternate ending. This, in turn, led to three other sequels (Brian's Winter, Brian's Return and Brian's Hunt), which are now considered "canonical." It's an interesting, and perhaps unique, case of a single book splitting off into two separate series with mutually contradictory storylines.
Gary Paulsen is an interesting character. Besides writing an astounding number of books, he has also competed in the Iditarod dogsled race, survived in the wilderness, and experienced everything - literally everything - that Brian lives through in this book. His books in general will appeal to the type of reader who enjoys coming-of-age stories and the idea of living in the wild, without the aid of modern technology. Up-and-coming fantasy writers should probably read every one of his titles, to give their camping and hunting scenes a ring of authenticity. Any would-be writer, in fact, and lovers of good writing, should take note of this book and its author's uniquely gripping, dramatic, often downright poetic style.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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