By Gary Paulsen
Published 1999 by Delacorte Press
Brian Series: Hatchet – Brian’s Winter – The River – Brian’s Return – Brian’s Hunt
The ultimate survivor character, Brian Robeson, is feeling trapped in the city life in this fourth survival novel by Gary Paulsen: Brian’s Return. The novel is essentially a flashback as Brian is rowing in his canoe, The Raft, a gift given to him in the epilogue of The River.
Brian’s first memories are of how he could never readjust to city life and being social. He laments of a girl he had a crush on. The flashback portion of the story comes to a quick head when a stereotypical jock tries to hit Brian with a pizza parlor door and instead hits his girl. The textbook muscle man takes a swing at Brian which sends Brian into survival mode. The fight quickly becomes one-sided as Brian considers his enemy more of a threat to Brian’s life. Brian pummels the Neanderthal into hospitalization…
In that instant Brian totally reverted. He was no longer a boy walking into a pizza parlor. He was Brian back in the words, Brian with the moose, Brian being attacked – Brian living because he was quick and focused and intent on staying alive – and Carl was the threat, the thing that had to be stopped, attacked. Destroyed.
Everyone distances themselves completely from Brian. The police require Brian to enter counseling. It is there that Brian finally finds someone who understands him. It is there Brian meets Caleb: a blind ex-cop who encourages him to return to the wood.
Being a young adult novel the book is pretty good. For being a book in the Brian series, however, it is by far the worst. The novel drags on with sappy thoughts of Brian and his connection with the wilderness and avoids any moments of suspense that made Brian’s Winter so amazing. The fight early on is extraordinarily well written but from there the book quickly becomes a race to the end simply to finally finish the book.
Readers of the series should be prepared that this book assumes Brian’s Winter, the alternate ending to Hatchet, happens. New readers to the series will find zero value in this novel whatsoever and should easily back-up and begin at the beginning: Hatchet and Brian’s Winter. Overall, this book bored me and I read it simply as a bridge from The River into the new release: Brian’s Hunt.
Inset quote from Brian’s Return, copyright 1999 Gary Paulsen