cover image The River

The River

Gary Paulsen. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-385-30388-0

Nearly two years after being marooned in the wilderness--the experience recounted in Hatchet --Brian agrees to go back, accompanied by Derek, a psychologist who wants to study the strategies and especially the mental toughness that brought Brian through. At first he chafes at the relative comforts, the lack of true challenge, this second time around. All that changes when Derek is struck by lightning and falls into a coma--Brian must raft Derek to the nearest outpost, 100 miles downriver. In attempting this sequel Paulsen has set himself a difficult task, which he meets superbly. The new adventure is as riveting as its predecessor and yet, because of significant differences in the nature of its dramatic tension, is not merely a clone. The experiences of Hatchet , distilled by time, inform Brian's character throughout, so that the psychological terrain of the sequel is fresh and distinct. The older Brian is more reflective and accepting, and these qualities add new dimensions to his interactions with nature. And returning to the north effects a subtle but startling change: instantly, almost unconsciously, Brian finds himself absorbing every detail of the scene around him--taking the scent of the wind, reading the shape of each cloud--and in the process turning inward, finding words superfluous in the face of the wild. There is no dearth of action and physical suspense here, rendered in terse, heart-stopping prose. Paulsen, as always, pulls no punches: a scene in which Brian fantasizes about cutting Derek loose from the raft is as powerful as they come. Ages 12-up. (June)