There is no doubt that certain books children read are made especially for boys or for girls. Like any developmental form of entertainment, from toys to movies, children's books are often littered with hints that dictate whether they were originally meant for male or female enjoyment. Sometimes these hints can be as simple as the specific gender of the main characters, for example Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew series calls for a female audience while the extremely similar yet sexually opposite Hardy Boys mysteries fall into the hands of boys, yet other times more important factors decide who the book will best be suited for. Gary Paulsen's Hatchet and Katherine Patersons's The Great Gilly Hopkins are books for a boy and a girl, respectively, yet aside from the gender of their protagonist they also use a heavy reliance on setting, parental interactions, and self-development to truly reach their intended readership. And though on the surface this “novel for boys” and “novel for girls” couldn't be more dissimilar, their authors use these factors to mask the fact that they are really both gender-specific renderings of the same story: a domestic survival tale.
Gary Paulsen's Hatchet follows in the footsteps of other famous novels for boys such as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and indeed this literary pedigree alone might be enough to qualify its intended audience. It's the type of story boys love, the type that littered the pages of The Boy's Own Paper and lived in the heart of many a boy scout: that of a boy dropped in the wilderness who must learn to conquer the elements and fend for himself. What Paulsen brings to this oft-told tale however, and what differs it from other works of its ilk, is a domestic
bent. Whereas Defoe's Crusoe was a full-grown man with a taste for adventure and the children in Lord of the Flies were grouped together with very little information given about their background, Paulsen's hero Brian Robeson's adventure begins with the dissolution of his parents marriage. Hatchet's survival story, then, is two-fold. Because stereotypically boys are less focused on the emotional aspect of things, and boys raised on G.I. Joes as opposed to a game of “house” are less interested in domesticity, the adventure trappings of Hatchet serve to mask what is really happening in the story.
When Brian crashes in the woods he has already been set adrift by the rift between his parents, has already been left as one that will have to survive on his own. Brian was comfortable in the security of his stable familial unit but now he is left alone in a new world, the untamed wilderness of a broken home. These aspects of divorce and infidelity, however, would hold no real sway over young male readers, so it is made real by the woods that Brian finds himself in. Everything he has to do in the woods revolves around a “home”. When Brian takes stock of everything he must do once he first...