A great survival and adventure story “Hatchet” is not only a great tale for kids and teenagers. It also contains lots of practical advice about living in forest and meeting its wonders and dangers. The novel starts with introducing Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old teenager, who is on the airport of New York, waiting to board a plane to the wild woodlands of Canada where his father lives. He still feels uneasy about the recent divorce of his parents and about “The Secret” - the fact that his mother cheated on his father.
The plane is private and small, just for a pilot and a passenger. When Brian gets in the pilot even briefly shows him how to control the plane. He is open and friendly and the boy finally feels at least partially relieved. But when they are in the air, flying above the endless forests, the pilot starts to complain that he feels sudden pain in his chest and stomach. The pain grows stronger and suddenly the pilot loses his consciousness. When Brian tries to wake him up, he understands that the man is dead of heart attack and the plane is now plummeting to the woods. Brian takes controls, trying at least not to fall to his death. He manages to survive, though the plane crash-lands into a lake and disappears underwater. Brian is extremely lucky to fall outside before he is drowned with the vehicle and the pilot’s corpse.
Brian is injured, but, luckily to him, not seriously. What is much worse - he is now lost in the middle of nowhere without any supplies and without chance to send a message to anyone. Still, at first he wisely decides to stay where he crashed, understanding that the rescue team will possibly see the lake from above. The only tool he has is a little hatchet - the gift from his mother hanging on his belt.
Brian looks around trying to find some food. Soon enough he notices berries and, feeling very hungry, eats a handful of them at once. But the berries appear to be non-edible and Brian spends the rest of the day curled and extremely ill. He is lucky again - the berries weren’t poisonous enough to kill him outright, so soon the boy feels well enough to get up. Seeing that the night is approaching, he builds a clumsy shelter out of leaves and branches, using the hatchet. After that Brian searches for food some more, but now looking only for the known berries and mushrooms. Not far from the crash site he finds a raspberry patch - but he isn’t the first one who got there. Brian spots a bear feasting on raspberries. Now he has to retreat.
He gets into his shelter to have some sleep - it’s too dark now to actually search for something. He thinks a lot about his family and the feelings that haunt him - about his mother’s affair, his parents’ divorce and the seemingly ruined family life. Finally Brian manages to fall asleep. In the middle of the night a porcupine enters his shelter and when the boy starts to panic, not understanding what is happening, it panics too, shooting Brian with his quills. The porcupine leaves, but the boy is left very hurt and very, very cold after the night in the forest.
Brian takes the quills out of his leg and treats the wound as good as he can. He tries to start a fire with several methods, but fails again and again. Finally, he manages to ignite sparks from hitting his hatchet with a stone. The fire doesn’t start immediately, but some time afterwards Brian has a fireplace that offers him warmth, minimal protection from animals and also, as he hopes, makes him more visible for the rescue planes. The boy sleeps the rest of the night relatively calmly.
The next day he is much more confident. Brian gets the raspberry and the water from the lake for breakfast - now he is wise enough not to eat and drink a lot at once. The leg still hurts, but even combined, all his injures don’t prevent the boy from exploring the shore and finding the turtle eggs. He eats them raw despite the initial disgust - and feels much better after having some meat in his stomach.
Later, while Brian is busy, he notices a rescue plane that passes by without noticing him. He tries to scream and jump and wave to the plane, but in vain. Finally the stress and fear take over and Brian have a huge hysterics, crying, screaming and feeling absolute despair. He is almost sure that now he will not be found because the rescue team will search elsewhere. Driven to the brink of sanity, Brian even tries to kill himself by cutting his veins with his hatchet, but fails.
When the hysterics is gone, Brian stands up almost a different person. His wounds on his hands are not dangerous (he is a very, very lucky boy), the veins are intact and he still can use his hands. Now the boy is determined to survive no matter what and to give the rescue team at least the slight chance to find him alive. He makes a bow and arrows and a fishing rod, using the branches, the hatchet and parts of his own clothes. His efforts are soon rewarded with a big fish he caught. For Brian even the lone fish is a huge feast that raises his spirit incredibly.
Gradually he gets used to the wilderness, hunting rabbits, fishing, gathering raspberry and improving his shelter. Brian still thinks about his family, but tries his best to not let his thoughts to lead him back into depression and despair. He very wisely dedicates himself to the present moment and this way avoids madness caused by loneliness.
But still the life in the woods is harsh. One day Brian gets attacked by the skunk: it crawled into his shelter and the boy screamed at him. Terrified skunk sprayed him, temporarily blinding Brian, causing nausea and giving his shelter and clothes an awful smell that has to be dealt with as soon as possible. Later, when Brian caught a foolbird into his trap and was cleaning the disemboweled body in the lake water, a moose saw him and immediately attacked - the mooses are very nervous and aggressive animals despite the fact they are herbivores. This was the most dangerous situations that happened to Brian after the actual crash. The moose injured his ribs and shoulder. The wound later caused severe pain and slowed Brian down. The boy barely made his way back to his temporarily home and curled there in pain and fever, thinking about the now dead pilot and the last conversation they had.
To make things worse, when the boy lies in his shelter recovering from the encounter with the moose, a tornado starts above the forest. Ravaging wind destroys his shelter, hurling debris and crashing the huge tree branches. Brian is lucky enough to get out of the collapsing shelter and not being injured even more or driven away to his death with the wind.
When the tornado goes away, the exhausted boy simply waits for the next day. In the morning he goes to explore the amount of wreckage the tornado caused. When he comes to the lake he sees that the tornado syphoned away some of the lake water and the plane that was on the bottom before is now seen. It’s great news, because the plane sticking from the water, is clearly visible from the sky. Moreover, the boy understands that he can get some emergency supplies from the plane if only he reaches it.
Brian starts to construct a raft. But unlike everything else he did before, the raft is a complicated structure that demands rigidness. The first several attempts fail - the raft self-dismantles in water. During one of such attempts Brian accidentally loses his hatchet - that is literally the key to his survival. Coping with the initial panic, the boy starts to dive. After a particularly long dive he is finally able to sense it and takes the hatchet to the surface. But during the last dive he turned his head and saw the body of the dead pilot, bloated and half-eaten by fish. Brian almost loses consciousness out of fear and disgust and barely manages to swim back to the shore.
Finally the raft is ready and seems strong enough to make it to the plane and back. Brian starts his short journey and soon reaches the broken vehicle. In the tail of a plane he finds a sealed survival pack and takes it back to the shelter, deciding to open it in the morning, when he will be able to think more clearly and see everything under the daylight.
In the morning Brian opens the package and indeed finds a lot of useful stuff - but instead of taking everything at once, the boy carefully examines each item. Some of them he puts aside. Brian decides that the ones he made with his own hands and already got used to will serve him better. The two things that indeed caught his attention are the dried meat meal and an emergency transmitter. Brian presses the button on the transmitter but there is no indication or any other sign that it is still working. Brian is upset but not panics as it was for the first time when the plane missed him. He puts away the transmitter and prepares to cook his newly found food.
When the meat is ready to eat the boy hears the sound of engines. The rescue team finally got a signal from the emergency transmitter. Now they spotted the remains of the plane on the lake and are preparing for landing and rescue. The pilot steps out and tells Brian, who ran to them, that he indeed caught the signal and Brian did well.
In a few days Brian returns home to his mother. The survival experience in the forest changed him. He is now much more grown up, calm, collected and attentive. He remembers the berries and plants he saw in the forest and starts studying them. Though his parents never reconciled and the thoughts about his mother’s affair continued to haunt him without being told to anyone, Brian changed his attitude to what happened. Now he is ready to accept the life as it is, concentrating on what he has here and now and the goal he is heading towards instead of useless panic and depression.