Against the Odds: Three American Novels of Survival

As I was cleaning out my bookshelves recently, I happened to find three books that I had not read in years. They are: The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

All three novels feature characters younger than the age of fifteen who survive alone in the wilderness. While they all have the same basic concept of surviving alone, how each character came to that situation and what skills they have in order to survive are vastly different. For instance, Island of the Blue Dolphins is loosely based on a true story of a Native American girl who was left on her island home after her entire tribe was killed or sold into slavery. She remained alone for eighteen years before being discovered by a whaling ship. While fifteen-year-old Brian Robinson in Hatchet, survives a plane crash only to be stranded in the Canadian wilderness. Finally, fifteen-year-old, Sam Gribley in My Side of the Mountain, makes the choice to leave his crowded home to live in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

Thinking back, I suppose what attracted me to these types of stories when I was younger was the idea of people around my age who survived—or chose to survive—extraordinary circumstances. I was amazed at how they each used what survival skills they knew and adapted to their surroundings. While each of the characters were rescued—or in Sam Gribley’s case, went back home—I was still always left wondering how they coped after their ordeals. Gary Paulsen even expanded Hatchet into a series including an alternate sequel, Brian’s Winter where Brian is not rescued at the end of Hatchet and is forced to survive the winter. Likewise, Scott O’Dell and Jean Craighead George also wrote continuations of their novels.

Having found the books again, I will have to sit down and reread them and I have to wonder what I will think of the stories now after so many years. However, I do feel that no matter my own opinions of the style of writing or the plot line itself, stories of survival—whether fictional or not—speak to the ideal of the unbreakable human spirit and the will to survive, no matter the circumstances.

-Emily Bereiter

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