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As a form of escapism, reading is a medium unlike any other – especially for inventive and developing minds. Therefore, what better place to escape to than one totally isolated from human contact? That’s exactly what happens in ‘Hatchet’ and it’s this simultaneous escape and entrapment – being spirited away to a place in which you are physically trapped – which makes the novel so engaging and entrancing.
Of course, those looking to discover similar stories of abandonment and desperation would do well to begin with the four sequels in Paulsen’s series, all centring on Brian Robeson and his exploits. Equally, Daniel Defoe predated Paulsen with a similar storyline in what is considered by many critics to be the first ever novel, ‘Robinson Crusoe’. Or you could check out the classic ‘Lord of the Flies’, which takes a darker and more critical look at human nature when it is removed from the rigorous demands of society.
However, any self-respecting aficionado of the genre will already have devoured those obvious titles… so here are a handful of less immediate and lesser-known books comparable to ‘Hatchet’.
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Sam Gribley is a 12-year-old country lover trapped in the body of a city dweller, which is in turn trapped inside the stuffy confines of a New York apartment. Intent upon breaking away from civilisation and secluding himself in his grandfather’s remote cabin the woods, Sam secures the eyebrow-raising approval of his father for his escape.
But while Sam quickly cultivates an impressive armoury of self-sufficiency skills, he also learns that you can take the boy out of the city, but it’s a bit trickier to take the humanity out of the boy.
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This fast-paced adventure tale relates the exploits of four intrepid youngsters Michael, Gavin, Clare and Mot as they embark upon a series of whirlwind escapades that will leave the reader breathless and desperate to explore the beauty of the rugged Scottish countryside.
With an unmistakably Caledonian tinge, the book offers tidbits of local history and interest in among all of the hustle and bustle of the foursome’s restless activity.
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Set against the turbulent backdrop of WWII, ‘The Cay’ tells the story of 11-year-old Phillip’s shipwreck on a deserted, diminutive island, with only an elderly black man and a cat for company. While ‘The Cay’ does concern itself with the day-to-day struggles of living alone away from civilisation, the overriding impetus for the plot is Phillip’s battle to overcome his own inherent racist attitudes, instilled in him by generations of prejudice.
As such, it is an entertaining but far more profound work than ‘Hatchet’, which engendered much acclaim and criticism simultaneously at the time of its publication.
The three books outlined above all feature young protagonists from Western societies who find themselves flung (either through choice or circumstance) into challenging situations.
The backgrounds of these characters make them instantly relatable to young Western minds, who presumably come from similar homes themselves. However, for a more imaginative leap, try a book like ‘Hatchet’ which has characters from farther flung destinations and climes – these three below are a good place to start.
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Set in the Pacific Islands, ‘Call It Courage’ charts the story of Mafatu, the son of a tribal chief who must face his fear of the ocean in order to gain the respect of his peers and one day step into his father’s shoes. Along the way, he must cope with being shipwrecked, acquire an array of survival skills and learn some valuable truths about himself and human society.
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This unique and inspirational story of a Native American woman left alone on an uninhabited island was based on the true story of Juana Maria, believed to be the last surviving member of her people, named the Nicoleño.
After overcoming such difficulties as hunting food, staying warm, evading wild animals and grappling with debilitating loneliness, the unfortunate woman was finally taken into Western society in the shape of a Californian mission. In 2012, the real cave in which she had lived was believed to have been found on San Nicolas Island.
This ingenuous and innovative novel, along with its companion ‘White Fang’, is revolutionary in that its central character is neither man nor woman – it is, in fact, a canine. ‘The Call of the Wild’ details the life of Buck, an impressively powerful St. Bernard – Collie mongrel as he is passed from the hands of one owner to the next. ‘White Fang’, on the other hand, features a wild wolf which is tamed and drawn into human society – though never completely able to shake off its primal instincts.
Everyone has an axe to grind, so why not chip in with your own suggestions on novels like ‘Hatchet’ below? You might notice that all of the titles mentioned above were written over 30 years ago… can you think of any modern takes on the genre?
If so, be a pal and pop them in the comments box below.
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