Saturday 6 February 2021

Book Review: Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen

Gone to the Woods
Gary Paulsen


Publisher: Pan Macmillan  
Imprint: Macmillan Children's Books 
Publication date: 12th January 2021
Genre: Children's / Teenage / Memoir
Pages: 224
RRP: $16.99AUD
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher
About the book
From the author of the bestselling Hatchet comes a true story of high-stakes wilderness survival!

At the age of five Gary Paulsen escaped from a shocking Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead, finding a powerful respect for nature that would stay with him throughout his life. At the age of thirteen a librarian handed him his first book, and there he found a lasting love of reading. As a teenager he desperately enlisted in the Army, and there amazingly discovered his true calling as a storyteller.

A moving and enthralling story of grit and growing up, Gone to the Woods is perfect for newcomers to the voice and lifelong fans alike, from the acclaimed author at his rawest and realest.
My review
I'm finding it hard to know where to start with this story. My son, when young, was a huge Hatchet fan. He read the book over and over and talked of it often. This is how I came to know the name Gary Paulsen, so when I heard he had written a memoir of his childhood I jumped at the chance to read it.

Gary Paulsen writes with stark reality, there is no softening around the edges. He writes about life exactly as he lived it and some scenes are quite gruesome. The story contains vivid descriptions of a train load of injured soldiers and also a frenzied shark attack on the passengers of a plane crash. What I found most distressing is that these are actual real events witnessed by Paulsen as a young child.

The story is narrated in third person with Paulsen referring to himself as 'the boy', so it reads more like a fiction novel than the usual memoir with first person narration.

Paulsen takes moments from his life and weaves a story around that event introducing history and education into the narrative.

The boy, at age 5, after living a life of neglect with his mother, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle on a farm. Here he learns to work hard and to live off the land but mostly he learnt how it felt to  belong. Every sight, sound and smell the boy experiences comes alive on the page. These few years are what set him up to survive life when he was taken back by his mother. What followed  was years of neglect, poverty, bullying and hunger.
The story isn't all bleak as Paulsen interjects humour into even the bleakest events.
When he discovers the library and the librarian who gently encourages him to read more and more books that broaden his mind a whole new world of hope is opened up to him.
Paulsen's writing starts out soft and gentle when he is a young child naive and fragile, as his life moves on you can feel the writing is more jaded, edgy. Then as a teen, 16 - 17, the writing is angry, disillusioned. I find this type of character change through words and sentence structure unique and engaging.
Gone to the Woods is a harrowing and moving true life story of resilience, perseverance and the healing power of books. Narrated with warmth and humour it is touching and informative.

This book is being marketed as middle grade but I would recommend 12+ as there are some quite horrifying and descriptive scenes of war and a shark attack.

5/5  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the author

Credit: Pan Macmillan

Gary Paulsen has received great acclaim and many awards for his novels written for young people. HATCHET, and its sequel, THE RETURN, are among his best-known works. He has sailed the Pacific and competed in the gruelling 1,049 mile Iditarod dog-sled race across Alaska. He lives with his family in New Mexico, USA.

Challenge entered: Non Fiction Readers Challenge 


  1. Great review!! I've only read Hatchet and didn't know anything about Paulsen. Found your blog at Book'd Out. I'm in Australia, too & now following you. :)

  2. I know my son read Hachet for school, he might be interested in this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  3. I just bought this book as a companion to the novel for my students.
    I am looking forward to reading it myself as I enjoyed Hatchet (and all the other books) when I read them quite a few years ago.

    1. It is such a good read. A real life Hatchet story and a great lesson on resilience.

  4. I read it pretty good