Hatchet by Gary Paulsen tells the story of Brian, a young boy who survives a plane crash that leaves him alone in the wilderness in Canada. Through internal conflict, external forces working against him, and with the help of his hatchet (a recent present from his mother), Brian learns to survive on his own. Paulsen breaks down the different types of conflict and helps his readers better understand how a small event can affect the larger plot of a story.
Thirteen-year-old Brian is flying to see his dad, following his parents’ stressful divorce and split custody agreement. When his pilot (the only other person in the plane) has a heart attack, Brian survives the ensuing crash-landing and has to learn how to survive alone in the woods of Canada. Banged up and without gear, Brian faces wild animals, brutal weather, and his own doubts and fears. He also spends a lot of time thinking about his “big secret”.
Time passes, and Brian becomes more adept at surviving. Luckily, as a going-away gift, his mom had given him a hatchet to take with him. Brian is able to create fire with the hatchet, a surprising turn of events that winds up helping with much of his survival efforts. He also learns to fish with a spear that he whittles with the hatchet. Eventually, he figures out how to catch meat, a huge accomplishment in his eyes. Some of his more memorable struggles include being pierced by porcupine quills, being blinded by skunk spray when he attempts to keep it from eating his foraged turtle eggs, having a run-in with a bear, and being brutally attacked by a moose. Brian also survives hordes of mosquitoes, near starvation, and a massive tornado.
His character grows stronger throughout the book, physically and mentally. After much toil and fearful happenings, Brian is finally rescued - alive, and with a better outlook on his life.