In this third-person memoir told in five sections, Newbery Medalist Paulsen (Hatchet), best known for his riveting survival stories, shares the turbulent early life experiences that led to his writing career. After his mother finds munitions plant work in 1944 Chicago, “the boy,” then five, accompanies her to bars and “sing to draw men” for her. Scandalized, his grandmother arranges for him to stay at his loving aunt and uncle’s Minnesota farm. After a few idyllic months enjoying the outdoors, however, Paulsen’s mother insists they join his father, stationed in Manila, but the overseas journey and witnessing brutal killings in the wake of WWII prove difficult. As a teen in North Dakota, Paulsen repeatedly runs away from his increasingly volatile parents and befriends a kind librarian, who encourages him to write. But it isn’t until he enlists in the military and is faced with inflicting the same brutality that he saw in Manila that he knows he wants something different in life. Told in the third person, Paulsen’s raw memoir renders “the boy” a curious and savvy protagonist who constantly forges ahead, resulting in a riveting, hopeful survival story about personal resilience amid trauma. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jennifer Flannery, Flannery Literary. (Jan.)
Gr 7 Up—Paulsen's autobiography for middle schoolers reads quite a bit like his "Hatchet" series because of his turbulent childhood and teen years. The text is organized into five sections: "The Farm," "The River," "The Ship," "Thirteen," and "Soldier." Each chapter describes a turning point or defining moment in Paulsen's life. The second and fourth sections show the influences that would eventually lead to the "Hatchet" series. In "The River," a very young Paulsen is taken on a canoe trip into the forest to pick mushrooms. The trip allows Paulsen to fall in love with the woods. He learns how to fish, light a fire, paddle a canoe—skills his characters need to use in Hatchet. Later, the woods become a refuge from drunken, abusive parents. Paulsen is mostly sustained by what he can scrounge and catch. The book chronicles his younger years and includes some difficult topics, such as living in an armed conflict zone and watching people drown during a boat trip. He battles poverty, neglect, and uncertainty, but he does overcome these challenges to become an admired author, which ultimately offers an inspiring narrative. There is some graphic and violent content that takes place in Manila during an armed conflict and some scenes on the high seas, which may not be appropriate for younger students. Overall, this exciting, fast-paced title reads like fiction. The tone matches Paulsen's style and echoes themes from his novels. VERDICT A wonderful way to introduce middle grade and high school readers to the excitement and beauty of biographies.—Sara Kundrik, Gilbert Paterson M.S., Alta.
Life was hard for the boy, who wasn’t an orphan but was close enough to being one while still having parents.
In this emotional memoir, Paulsen writes about himself in the third person as “the boy,” choosing several pointed childhood experiences that were instrumental to his maturation into a writer. As a child, the boy is rescued by his grandmother, who is appalled to learn that, at 5, he is performing for an array of his mother’s suitors in Chicago bars while his father is serving in World War II. Upon her insistence that he relocate to his aunt and uncle’s farm, the boy makes the journey by train to Minnesota alone. There, he experiences unconditional love for the first time. However, all good things come to an end, and when the mother retrieves the boy to join his father in the Philippines, the narrative shifts, and the boy experiences ongoing trauma that many readers will connect to. Paulsen keenly observes his youth from a distance, only identifying himself once by name. In this way, he effectively executes the roles of both an actor in the story and director of the text. This sense of close-detachedness results in a rich, compelling read that is emotive and expressive without forcing empathy from the reader. Both brightly funny and darkly tragic, it is fresh in its honest portrayal of difficult themes.
Readers will fall into this narrative of succeeding against overwhelming odds amid deep trauma. (Memoir. 12-18)
A Publisher's Weekly Best Book of 2021
An Evanston Public Library Best Book of 2021
A New York Times Best Children's Book of 2021
A TIME Magazine Best Children's Book of 2021
A People Magazine Best Children's Book of 2021
“It might seem unlikely that such an unflinching account could have an uplifting effect. Yet it does. A child may grow up in privation, and he may grow up in ease, but suffering comes to all. Through his example, Gary Paulsen models how it can be overcome.” —The Wall Street Journal
“A rich, compelling read that is emotive and expressive without forcing empathy from the reader. Both brightly funny and darkly tragic, it is fresh in its honest portrayal of difficult themes . . . Readers will fall into this narrative of succeeding against overwhelming odds amid deep trauma.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Recalls many tense and dangerous moments. Readers will find themselves turning the pages quickly to see what happens next and whether the boy survives, perhaps forgetting that this is the life story of a popular author now 81 years old.” —The Washington Post
“A riveting, hopeful survival story about personal resilience amid trauma.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Paulsen exposes his early life with raw honesty and heartwarming humor . . . This literary treasure is written for book lovers of any age . . . [A] spectacular memoir that will engage readers as intensely as his award-winning fiction.” —Shelf Awareness, starred review
“The prolific Paulsen dips into his seemingly inexhaustible well of memories to pen yet another memoir . . . Resonant themes and beautiful writing unify the memoir’s episodic structure.” —The Horn Book, starred review
“Beautifully written, Paulsen's memoir demonstrates that good can triumph over bad beginnings . . . Everybody will want to get their hands on his latest.” —Booklist
“This master of survival stories draws his audience deep into his experience, whiplashing from comfort and growth into abject neglect and on to a fulfilling adult life. This survival story, up close and personal, is one Paulsen fans will not want to miss.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
“Leaves you gritting your teeth and clutching the pages . . . Beautiful language . . . stunning detail . . . Haunted me as a reader.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Overall, this exciting, fast-paced title reads like fiction. The tone matches Paulsen’s style and echoes themes from his novels . . . A wonderful way to introduce middle grade and high school readers to the excitement and beauty of biographies.” —School Library Journal