If there's one thing writer Gary Paulsen has shown in his "Brian" books, it's that surviving in the wild is dangerous, but it can be done. His character Brian Robeson found this out when, at the age of 13, he alone survived a plane crash in the Canadian bush, only to be faced with a bigger challenge: enduring for months in the wild armed only with a hatchet.
Hatchet was the first of Paulsen's hugely successful stories concerning a city boy's life-changing encounters with the natural world. He followed the book with three sequels (The River, Brian's Winter and Brian's Return) and then declared that he would write no more Brian books. Now, thankfully, Paulsen has surrendered to popular demand with another satisfying sequel.
Brian's Hunt finds our young protagonist back in Canada, away from his parents, away from civilization, which he has come to disdain. It's a vacation of sorts for Brian, sleeping under the stars again, catching and cooking his own food, enjoying the isolation and silence, but his idyll is shattered when a frightened, wounded dog shows up at his campsite. As Brian nurses the creature back to health, he wonders where it came from, and the answer to this riddle draws him northward, to a Cree Indian camp, and the greatest danger he has ever faced. Paulsen knows the Canadian north woods, and the situation he presents to Brian (and the reader) in this book is frighteningly real. While Brian is as adept as any Native American in the ways of the forest, he's also still a kid. Fishing with a bow and arrow is easy compared to figuring out his attraction to the daughter of a Cree friend. This Brian isn't the same one we knew in Hatchet. Instead, he's cautious, careful and wise in the ways of woodcraft. It's only the girl that bothers him.
Paulsen recognizes the pull within all of us to be truly in charge of our lives, to control our own destiny. That kind of freedom is what we're all searching for, and what Brian has, in his world. In Brian's Hunt, however, Paulsen shows us that such freedom is not without its cost.
James Neal Webb writes from Nashville.