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6 Books like Hatchet: Adolescents in the Wild

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorGary Paulsen’s tale of a teenager stranded in the Canadian wilderness played upon the fears and fantasies of many imaginative youngsters. How would they cope, alone, against the elements? For more interesting takes on the subject, check out ‘My Side of the Mountain’, ‘Light on Dumyat’ or any of these other enthralling books like ‘Hatchet’. ~ Jonny Sweet

Riveting Reads

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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Books Similar to ‘Hatchet’…

‘My Side of the Mountain’ (Jean Craighead George, 1959)

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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.

Similarity Match: 90%
Though the protagonists of both ‘Hatchet’ and ‘My Side of the Mountain’ find themselves completely isolated from society, the latter character chose to exile himself, whereas the former did not.

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‘Light on Dumyat’ (Rennie McOwan, 1982)

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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.
 

Similarity Match: 80%
Although the main characters of ‘Light on Dumyat’ aren’t quite as hopelessly isolated from civilisation as Brian in ‘Hatchet’, they too find themselves facing a steep learning curve when up against Mother Nature and her unforgiving elements.

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‘The Cay’ (Theodore Taylor, 1969)

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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.

Similarity Match: 70%
Both ‘Hatchet’ and ‘The Cay’ feature protagonists who are marooned in the wilderness, far from society – but the latter is far more preoccupied with weighty issues, such as war and racism, than the former.

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If You Like ‘Hatchet’, You Will Like…

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.

‘Call It Courage’ (Armstrong Sperry, 1940)

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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.
 
 

The main characters in ‘Hatchet’ and ‘Call It Courage’ both have to call upon wells of bravery and self-belief they weren’t aware they possessed in order to survive – but while the former is stranded by fate, the latter chooses to face his own fears in order to be accepted into his own particular society.

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‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’ (Scott O’Dell, 1960)

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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.

While ‘Hatchet’ and ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’ both focus on characters who are forsaken by human society, the latter differs in that it features a female protagonist – and is based upon a true story.

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‘The Call of the Wild’ (Jack London, 1903)

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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.
 

Both ‘The Call of the Wild’ and ‘Hatchet’ deal with the difficulties of living off the land in an uncompromising and deadly environment, but the former is told from the point of view of a dog.

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Whet Your Own Blade

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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