Thursday, January 19, 2017

Brian's Winter by Gary Paulsen

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

This book is the third of five in the Hatchet series, the original of which was Gary Paulsen’s breakout work. I listened to Hatchet when I was a teen, then read it to my kids. Later, we also discovered that Paulsen is a delightful humor writer as well.

Previous reviews of books in the Hatchet series:

Reviews of other Paulsen books:

When Paulsen wrote Hatchet, he wrote a self contained story. It has a beginning, and resolves at the end. But readers apparently wanted to hear more. So Paulsen wrote The River, which continues the story, with Brian returning to the scene of the plane crash with someone studying survival techniques. 

But readers apparently wanted something different. Or at least more. They wanted to know how the story would have gone had Brian not been rescued, but had spent the winter stranded in the wilderness. In the introduction to Brian’s Winter, Paulsen notes that he received hundreds of letters to this effect. So he went back and wrote an alternative scenario. 

Brian’s Winter is very much in the vein of Hatchet, naturally. Brian must overcome new obstacles and face new challenges. But the basic facts are the same. He must survive. In order to survive, he must continually find food. He must protect himself from the elements and from dangers posed by animals that would love to eat him.

Paulsen writes from experience. While he never had a catastrophe like Brian, he did spend a lot of time in the wilderness, and tested the techniques he writes about. Because of this, the books have a very realistic feel to them. To the degree that I am familiar with the topics, I can confirm that Paulsen is scrupulously devoted to accuracy. He does not exaggerate. He does not get the details wrong.

But the real charm of these books is the storytelling. Paulsen always tells a good story, whether it is realistic or humorous. His characters are memorable, human, and match their ages well. Paulsen doesn’t shy away from discomfort either, whether it is Brian’s nausea after he kills an animal for food, or the social discomfort the hapless Kevin (in Vote and Flat Broke) experiences when his plans go awry. But Paulsen is always hopeful. Brian will survive - and learn from his difficulties. Kevin will grow up a bit. And Reed will unfailingly find the zombie poop.

I found Brian’s Winter to be every bit as enjoyable as the original. There are two more in the series, which I am sure we will eventually get to during our travels.

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