Paulsen’s Final Adventure

“That simple. You lived or you died. And in between the two, if you kept your mind open and aware and listened and smelled and watched… In between you learned.”
― Gary Paulsen, Northwind

Northwind is quite a journey. The hero of our story is a 12-year-old orphan named Leif, whose life is upended when a deadly plague strikes his small fishing camp. It’s gritty and raw—Paulsen doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of it all. To save Leif and another young boy, a dying elder puts the two kids in a cedar canoe and tells Leif to paddle north to where the air is fresh.

Unsure of his destination, Leif finds himself with few supplies as he navigates the shorelines that teem with wildlife, all described with Paulsen’s classic attention to detail. Throughout his journey, he comes to understand the importance of learning from nature.

I normally don’t read books for this age group, but I wanted to see how Paulsen wrapped up his legacy. After all, Hatchet was legendary, and he wrote a whole library’s worth more. From what I understand, he had a tough childhood, which may be why he wrote books about teenagers surviving on their own.

Booklist perfectly likened this short, middle-grade novel to a YA version of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Sadly, it didn’t click for me. The storytelling felt lifeless and depressing, not at all what I expected. Paulsen clearly knew a great deal about nature, but little emotion made its way into the book.

The highlight for me was the author’s note—Paulsen shared bits about his life and his Norwegian grandma. That stuff was gold. Also, a heads-up if you prefer audiobooks—the narrator was talented, but maybe not the right voice for this one. I’m landing on 3 stars. For die-hard Paulsen fans, it’s a must-read, but don’t expect the same vibe as Hatchet.

** Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this novel. The opinions are my own.

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