I’m working with a student this summer who has started writing poetry and is really finding a voice with this genre. She is an avid reader but doesn’t read a lot of poetry. As a way to help her read more poetry in order to improve her craft, I suggested that she read some books in verse. Of course, I’d love to take full credit for knowing every awesome middle grade and YA book written in verse, but I don’t. So I did reach out to one of my favorite author friends and teachers, Erica George, for some suggestions. Erica’s novel Words Composed of Sea and Sky (while not told in verse does contain some great poetry) was already on my list. She suggested a few that were already on my tbr. And then she suggested Alone by Megan E. Freeman.
The blurbs online compared it to Hatchet, but really it is so much more! In Hatchet, Brian’s small plane goes down, killing the pilot, and he has to survive in the wilderness until he’s rescued. People know where Brian was heading.
In Alone, Maddie plans a sleepover with friends that goes terribly wrong. She tells her mom she’s staying at her dad’s house. She tells her dad she’s staying at her mom’s. In reality, she and her friends are going to stay at her grandparents’ condo (her grandparents aren’t there). Her friends bail on her at the last minute, but Maddie has already stocked up on junk food and her favorite movies so she decides to stay. Never expecting what happens next. No one knows where Maddie is when the “imminent threat” causes the entire town (and surrounding states) to be evacuated.
She ends up alone in her town with no way to communicate with her parents. Each parent thinks she’s with the other, so she has no idea how long it will be until they realize she’s missing.
Hatchet is told as prose. The novel is very plot driven and focuses on Brian’s survival.
Alone is a novel in poetry. The novel focuses on Maddie’s survival, and it’s a strong mix of action and Maddie’s emotions. Because the format is poetry, the novel captures emotions that I don’t think prose would. The author is able to focus on small snapshots of Maddie’s existence and gloss over day to day life where not much happens.
Hatchet is suspenseful. How will Brian survive as winter edges closer and the wilderness creeps in. Paulsen focuses a lot on the big picture.
Alone is suspenseful. But Freeman focuses on small snapshots of Maddie’s life, making the book incredibly terrifying for me–in ways that Hatchet wasn’t. There are a lot of unknowns in this book since it’s told as a first person narrative. Maddie doesn’t know where her family is so the reader does know where they are or what happened to them either. At one point, I even questioned whether Maddie’s family was safe and alive. There are so many more unknowns in Alone when compared to Hatchet, which adds to the suspense (and my fear for her and the world she lives in).
The social setting of Alone reminded me of the current political climate in the US–especially between the 2020 election and the inaugaration. Because Maddie is only twelve when the book begins, she’s not quite as aware of what’s going on in the US as an older narrator might be. And this leaves the reader with a lot of questions. At the beginning of the novel the reader starts to realize something’s off with the setting when Maddie’s mom says to her:
“Thanks for babysitting, sweetie.
We should be back early
unless they’re stopping people
at the checkpoints.
We’ll definitely be home
before the curfew” (Freeman 8)
All this is treated as normal. No one explains what the checkpoints are, why there are checkpoints, when the curfew is, or why there is a curfew. It’s treated as if we know. And not knowing made this novel really unsettling.
Later we learn about the imminent threat to the West, and there’s talk about the cooperation of patriots. But really, what does it all mean when it appears that people literally fled for their lives in the middle of the night.
In Hatchet Brian is stranded in the wilderness for 54 days.
In Alone, Maddie is stranded for over three years! The longer she is alone, the scarier the book becomes. She has no electricity, she has no communication with the outside world, she’s running out of supplies. In a way, this book was more like Safekeeping by Karen Hesse than Hatchet.
In the end, Alone really shouldn’t be compared to any book. It is its own story. It was a compulsive read. I needed to find out if Maddie ever reunited with her family. I wanted to find out what the imminent threat was and where her family went. I needed to know about her survival. This is definitely one book I can’t wait to book talk to my students in September.