Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hatchet: Book Review

I just finished reading Hatchet: 20th Anniversary Edition as part of my read a lot more than I have been monkey. (Check out my Monkey list from a previous post if you don't know what I'm talking about.)
All flying is easy. Just takes learning. Like everything else. Like everything else.
When I started Hatchet I was immediately put in mind of Follow My Leader, another book along these lines. At their heart they're coming of age stories. I read Follow My Leader in the summer of 1976 as part of a bicentennial summer reading program being put on by the town's public library. Follow My Leader is the story of a boy who is blinded in an accident with a firecracker and how he learns to live with his new blindness. I walked around with my eyes closed for ages afterwards thinking I should learn to be blind just in case... That was a lot of years ago and I still remember how I felt about the kid in that book... that kid who was older than me at the time I read the book come to think of it. It's a great book. I recommend it to any 8-14 year old boy... or older if you haven't read it yet. (I'd say girl too, but I've no clue what girls that age read unless it's Little House on the Prairie or My Darling My Hamburger having never been a girl.)
Hatchet is a book I wish I'd read around the same time as the Follow My Leader. It's the story of a kid who's little two person plane goes down in the Canadian bush while he's on the way to see his dad. The pilot died of a heart attack was the problem initially. The only tool he had to survive with was a hatchet his Mom had given him before he left, and his brains. He learns to use his brains and survive until help came.
I am full of tough hope.
It's not a long book, but the distance the boy goes from suicidal to survivor, and not just survivor, but more than he was when he got there is huge. I had a hatchet when I was a boy, and a river we used to camp at that felt about as remote as the Canadian Bush. If I'd read this before going it would have added a whole level to the camping trips as I would almost certainly have pretended to be crashed out there on that river.
One of the things about this book and about Ender's Game is that it portrays kids as capable and intelligent. When I was the age Brian (that's the protagonist's name) was in the book I thought I was pretty smart. I think all kids do at all ages... I still do... some things we never grow out of I guess. I felt I was capable of more than I was allowed, and that's probably a good thing. The sense that he could not die out there in the bush, that he was capable of dealing with what had happened, and not just survive, but thrive in a way. That's a big part of both this book and Follow my Leader actually... it's more than survival or dealing with the hand you're dealt. It's about coming out the otherside bigger than you were before. The word "survivor" has an intimation to it...
Survivor: To remain alive or in existence.
That's not what either of these kids do in either book, or in Ender's Game for that matter. They're put in a situation, a bad situation and they don't just survive. That's the bare minimum people do every other day to make it to the end of the day. They came out the other side stronger than they were before, tempered like steel by being run through the crucible or forge of a bad experience. They don't just come out the other side the same they went in but glad to have lived through it... that's surviving, they came out better than they went in. They came out changed. They overcame. That to me is why Hatchet is such a great book. For a kid to read stories about survival is fine, but for them to read books where mere survival is not enough... where the protagonist can go through something awful and come out better than before, that shapes the reader's mind in such a way that when they're, we're, I'm put in a a situation that looks insurmountable or terrible or overwhelming there's already an expectation in my head that I don't have to merely survive, but I can, with some hard work, luck, and tough hope, come out the other side better. It's not enough to grip with your fingernails and hold on to the edge of a cliff for dear life waiting for help, hoping to get out the other side merely alive... but to pull yourself up  and stand on the precipice and look around you to see what you can do for yourself. That lesson, the lesson that we can be independently successful even in untenable surroundings, that lesson is one every kid should learn.
I've been incredibly lucky in my life in that I haven't ever been struck blind by a fire-cracker. I've never crashed in a plane in the middle of the Canadian bush and been attacked by an insane moose. I've never been sent to Battle School away from my family to fight the buggers for the existence of the human race. None of that stuff's happened to me and honestly, I'm OK with that... but the things that have happened to me, that have come along that weren't all sunshine and roses... those things have helped make me who I am, which is more than a survivor, more than someone who merely "got through them." I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't gone through those things, and even though they aren't particularly pleasant to go through at the time, I don't think Brian would say his stay at the lake in Canada with the bears and wolves and mosquitos was a vacation... I also don't think I would want to change any of them. If I did I wouldn't be me, and I like who I've become.
Any kid out there could stand to learn the lesson that adversity doesn't have to be just lived through, but can be used as the fire that tempers the soul, turning it from the fragile, brittle thing it can be in our insecurities to a tougher thing, a stronger thing that can not just stand pressure, but spring back, pushing back the darkness, pushing back the tide, holding a light up saying, as Brian did in the book:
Come on, he thought, baring his teeth in the darkness—come on. Is that the best you can do—is that all you can hit me with—a moose and a tornado? Well, he thought, holding his ribs and smiling, then spitting mosquitoes out of his mouth. Well, that won't get the job done. That was the difference now. He had changed, and he was tough.
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