Drew Graham's Reviews > The River

The River by Gary Paulsen
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Read from July 10 to 11, 2012

Almost two years after his ordeal in the Canadian wilderness, the government has requested that Brian Robeson relive his experience for research purposes, accompanied by psychologist Derek Holtzer. Hoping to get a better idea of how he survived alone for two months, his mental, emotional and physical progression, in order to better train military and government personnel on survival techniques, they plan to try to recreate the conditions from the first plane crash. According to the proposed plan, Brian would do his thing (and narrate what he's thinking and doing), and Derek would take notes for use in eventual training practices. Brian is hesitant, but decides that if his both treasured and terrifying experience could help others, he's willing to go back out into the woods. His newfound resourcefulness and sharpened instincts and appreciation for the wonders of nature lead him to accompany Derek to a lake similar to the one where he crashed, but Brian insists on leaving all the "emergency" supplies in the plane to make the research more authentic. Things seem to be going well, if a little too easily to match Brian's memories of his harrowing Time in the woods, but before long nature takes its toll and Brian finds once again he has to use his wits and the natural resources around to save not only himself, but his far more inexperienced companion in a life-threatening situation.

When I was recently re-reading Hatchet, I discovered that it had in time become part one of a five-book long "saga" (though, five very slender books), so I naturally had to head over to the library to find the remaining volumes. When I saw the cover of this one, I actually remembered having seen at least this sequel on the shelf at some point(s) in my life, but I'm pretty sure I had never read it. So now I have. And I enjoyed it! But I didn't love it. and while Hatchet was teetering on 3.5-4, and so was rounded up, this one teetered on 3-3.5, and so was rounded down. It's nice to see Brian again, and the book is short but dense, and doesn't waste any time getting to its point, but it's not quite as gripping as the first book. The action sequences seem less frequent and not quite as frightening (though those relentless and bloodthirsty mosquitoes are still very unsettling!). The danger doesn't, and simply can't, feel the same, which is obvious from the premise, but the addition of another character introduces a new dynamic and makes it stand out a little. Derek is a good character, if not really heavily developed, and there's a nice friendship/professional partnership between him and Brian that becomes a pretty important element about halfway through. It was interesting that some of the major elements from the first book were eliminated or changed (it was a different, though similar lake, and I couldn't actually believe that he didn't bring his hatchet), and it was good to see Brian in new and as yet uncharted territory regarding his survival skills. It kept things fresh and still threatening. It's a very fast read, the story is still pretty simple, and this one isn't quite as much a love story to the wilderness, though that part of Brian's feelings is definitely still present, even as he struggles to keep himself and his friend alive and afloat.

This was a good sequel, but not quite as compelling as Brian's first ordeal, as outlined and described in Hatchet. Gary Paulsen's writing is very readable, and he manages to engage the reader pretty well even though this book is really quite short, especially considering the scope of the story and how high the stakes are. It's a simple story, and a little repetitive, but has some new and interesting elements, most notably the presence of another character, which makes Brian's second experience quite different from before, but with the same life-threatening sense of urgency. And Paulsen's apparent message certainly remains: The wilderness is something to be admired, but definitely respected. (And the similar cover art does fix some of the problems the first one had, but it's still not my favorite, and Derek still looks like Bob Saget to me.)

P.S. Dust cover designers: STOP including spoilers on the inside flaps! Tease! Teeeeease! Thank you.
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07/11/2012 page 91
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