Once upon a time, when I was in grade eight, my English teacher made the class read a book called Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. To this day, I think that it’s the only book that I’ve actually expressed a desire to burn. I thought that it was terrible — a very babyish book for grade eights, and poorly written to boot. I thoroughly loathed Hatchet, but eventually we got through it, and I was able to put it from my mind.
My family was en vacances the other week, and we stayed at a beach house type of place, which contained (as beach houses are wont to do) a rather esoteric collection of books left for vacationers to read. There were some kids’ books, some Barbara Kingsolver, a trashy Judy Blume novel, and — of all things — Roget’s Thesaurus. There were a handful of Babysitters’ Club books, which I reread with great relish.
Also, there was a copy of Hatchet, which I picked up and started to read. I wanted to see whether my old opinion of it stood up, or whether my original reaction was just pre-teen emotional… ness.
The verdict? As in any story, it’s probably better to show rather than to tell. Here is an excerpt from pages 2-3:
The thinking started.
Always it started with a single word.
It was an ugly word, he thought. A tearing, ugly word that meant fights and yelling, lawyers — God, he thought, how he hated lawyers who sat with their comfortable smiles and tried to explain to him in legal terms how all that he lived in was coming apart — and the breaking and shattering of all the solid things. His home, his life — all the solid things. Divorce. A breaking word, and ugly breaking word.
No, not secrets so much as just the Secret. What he knew and had not told anybody, what he knew about his mother that had caused the divorce, what he knew, what he knew — the Secret.
Brian felt his eyes beginning to burn and knew there would be tears. He had cried for a time, but that was gone now. He didn’t cry now. Instead his eyes burned and tears came, the seeping tears that burned, but he didn’t cry. He wiped his eyes with a finger and looked at the pilot out of the corner of his eye to make sure he hadn’t noticed the burning and tears.
This is a Newberry Honor Book, people.