In Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Brian survives alone in the Canadian bush with only a hatchet. No matter the obstacle–crash landing, tornado, dangerous encounters with bear, moose, and porcupine–Brian perseveres. If Hatchet inspired you, check out these 11 harrowing stories.
1. The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare
In the untamed forests of 18th-century Maine, Matt and his father build a homestead with their bare hands. When their shelter is complete, Matt’s father departs to collect Matt’s mother, sister, and new baby sibling. But, after many days pass, Matt’s father does not return. Then a fur trapper steals Matt’s gun, and he must learn to hunt and defend himself alone and without firepower–something he is scarcely prepared to do. Luckily, Matt meets Attean, a 13-year-old member of the Beaver clan and avid outdoorsman. To survive in the rugged landscape, Matt must learn to trust Attean, discard cultural prejudices, and maintain hope that his family will one day return.
2. Unwind, by Neal Shusterman
Curtis lives in a world where children’s lives may be electively terminated between the ages of 13 and 18. If a teen is deemed too troublesome, society “unwinds” them, meaning they are sent to harvest camps where they are forced to donate their organs to those in need. Society believes this practice serves the greater good, creating a safer, healthier world. But Curtis, a rebel on the verge of his unwinding, believes his life and the lives of other unwound teens are worth saving. Will Curtis win the fight for his own life in Unwind? Or is his fate sealed?
3. Dry, by Neal Shusterman
For as long as Alyssa can remember, water resources have been scant, meaning no lawn watering, no swimming pools, and no long showers. But when the drinking water completely evaporates, Alyssa and her family find themselves in a suburban war zone. People are dying for water, and when Alyssa’s parents don’t return from an outing to recover more resources, she and her younger brother must find a way to survive in the dry, violent world. Dry delivers thrilling action and insight on the climate crisis and impending water shortages.
4. Refugee, by Alan Gratz
Refugee includes three riveting and seldom heard stories of hope and tenacity. In the 1930s, Josef, a Jewish boy living in Germany, narrowly escapes a concentration camp by boarding an ocean liner to the end of the earth. In 1994, Isabel escapes the riots and political turmoil of Cuba by climbing atop a raft pointed toward America. In 2015, Mahmoud and his family hike to Europe after their home city of Aleppo crumbles under multiple bombings. Every chapter of Gratz’s novel ends in a cliffhanger: shark attacks, explosions, deception, and Gratz’s prose is dark and precise, always reminding you that these horrifying events are modeled after real life.
5. Peak, by Roland Smith
After 14-year-old Peak Marcello ascends a New York City skyscraper, he finds himself in handcuffs. The cops cart him to a juvenile detention center. The walls are gray, the company is volatile, and when all hope of resuming his normal life seems lost, Peak’s absentee father shows up offering a solution. Peak’s dad operates a climbing company in Thailand, and he agrees to spring Peak from his cell, so long as he promises to become the youngest person to climb to Everest’s summit. Peak suspects his dad has more to gain from this exchange than father-son bonding. But that doesn’t change the fact that Peak has an unfathomable choice to make: spend the remainder of his teenage years locked up, or make the deadly climb.
6. Leepike Ridge, by N.D. Wilson
When Thomas’s teacher arrives at his house for a dinner date with his mom, then unexpectedly pops the question, Thomas has a meltdown. He decides to clear his mind at the banks of a nearby stream. Then he opts to rest on a make-shift, packing foam raft. The ebb of water and the cushion of foam relaxes Thomas, and then he slips into a dream. But he wakes to a nightmare: an underground river system full of turbulent rapids. It’s a wild, unknown ride full of perils and possible windfalls (is that gold glinting around the bend?). Thomas could enjoy an adventure of a lifetime, or he could lose himself forever in a twisted maze of underground rivers.
7. Storm Runners, by Roland Smith
In Storm Runners, tragedy runs in the Masters family. First, Chase’s mom and sister suffer a deadly car crash, then his dad endures a lightning strike. Following the lightning strike, Chase’s dad develops an uncanny ability to pinpoint storms. With his new found “sixth-sense,” Mr. Masters chases storms all over the country, dragging Chase along with him. When the pair encounter a category five hurricane in Florida, more tragedy unfolds. They all should have evacuated, but it’s too late now.
8. Alone, by D.J. Brazier
Their small plane sputters, stalls mid-air, and then crash lands somewhere near the Amazon River. Sam is the lone survivor, and he is not equipped to make it alone in a jungle brimming with danger. On the verge of hopelessness, Sam finds an orphaned otter cub who inspires him to persevere. The two are an unlikely pair, but it seems that together, they might overcome each perilous obstacle in Alone. Then Sam is confronted with an impossible choice: save his only companion or save his own life.
9. Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk
Twelve-year-old Crow has questions: Why was she pushed out to sea on a skiff when she was a mere infant? Why must she live her young life condemned to a small island inhabited by just a few others? And, why won’t any of the other islanders touch her? As she bumbles toward her teens, Crow is desperate to uncover her mysterious past. But when she finds answers, she wonders if her quest for self-discovery is leading her down a dangerous path. Beyond the Bright Sea is a tale of family, marginalization, and a quest for identity.
10. The Disaster Days, by Rebecca Behrens
Described as “Hatchet meets The Babysitter’s Club,” The Disaster Days is a thrilling, coming-of-age survival tale. Thirteen-year-old Hannah Steele is living a normal day on Pelling, a tiny island off the coast of Seattle. With a babysitting gig and a mountain of homework, she’s a tad stressed, but it’s nothing she can’t handle. Then the earth begins to vibrate. The power goes out. Cell service wanes, and the house crumbles around Hannah and the kids. What will happen when she realizes the island’s sole bridge is blocked, the ferry isn’t making routes back to the mainland, no rescue is coming, and oh yeah, Hannah forgot her inhaler?
11. Shipwrecked: True Stories of Japanese Boy, by Rhoda Blumberg
Under early 19th century-Japanese law, any person who leaves the country and then attempts to return home to Japan is punished by death. This law courses through 14-year-old Manjiro’s mind as he is shipwrecked 300 miles from his homeland. He survives a near-death event, and now he must grapple with the idea that he can never return to his old life. Eventually, a whaling boat plucks Manjiro from the wreckage, and he makes his way to America. But the turmoil doesn’t stop. He engages in a constant tangle of emotions as he adapts to a new way of life while also hoping to find passage home. Shipwrecked is an unforgettable and inspiring historical tale about a boy who forged a path for refugees, immigrants, and adventurers.