Gary Paulsen's "Hatchet" tells the story of Brian Robeson, a 13-year-old boy from New York City. The book begins as he is leaving New York on an airplane to visit his father in Canada, struggling with his parents' recent divorce and the knowledge of his mother's affair.
On his flight from New York to Canada, the pilot of the plane has a heart attack. Brian attempts to take the controls, but the plane crashes in the woods over Canada. Injured from the crash, Brian attempts to eat some berries and becomes severely ill. He then begins to face a series of trials and obstacles, beginning with building a shelter in the woods and attacks from a porcupine and a skunk.
One day, a plane flies overhead but does not notice Brian. He then becomes despondent and tries to commit suicide with his hatchet, but survives. Later, a tornado destroys his shelter and stirs up the wreckage of the plane from a nearby lake. He attempts to retrieve a survival pack from the plane, and finds his pilot's head in the water. He successfully retrieves the survival pack from the wreckage, and the emergency transmitter leads a rescue plane to his location.