Published by Farrar Straus Giroux
Summary: Beloved author Gary Paulsen writes of his “lost childhood” in five sections, beginning in 1944 when, at the age of 5, his grandmother took him from his alcoholic mother and sent him to live on a remote farm with his aunt and uncle. Although the work there was hard, he felt happy and secure until his mother unexpectedly showed up and took him to the Philippines to live with his father for the first time. The horrific ship ride there and his time in Manila make up the second and third parts of the book, then he moves on to age 13, back in the U.S. His parents drank and fought constantly, and he was pretty much on his own, running away regularly to work on farms and at a carnival. The final chapter tells of his time in the army, winding up with his decision to make more of himself than the other men he saw there. On the last page, at the age of 80, he finds a notebook that a beloved librarian gave him, and thinks, “What the hell. Might as well write something down.” 368 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: I zipped through this compelling memoir in just a couple of days, both mesmerized and horrified by Paulsen’s stories of his incredibly difficult childhood and adolescence. Written in third person (he refers to himself as “the boy”), this story will be appreciated by fans of other Paulsen books, and will help readers understand the experiences that have influenced his work (although you might want to preview it before handing to some wide-eyed fourth-grade Hatchet fan).
Cons: This is more of a memoir than an autobiography, and readers will only learn certain episodes from Paulsen’s youth rather than all that happened to him in those years.