The premise in this first adventure in the Stay Alive series feels familiar and cannot claim the originality or authenticity of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (1987); neither does it show the careful characterization and scene setting of the author’s own books for teens.
A small plane plummets into a remote lake in Alaska. Besides the pilot, passengers include members of a TV show: seven preteens plus one dad, the producer and a basset hound. Except for the dog, the characters are mostly stereotypes. There’s the brave, decisive Eagle Scout, the able cool girl, the selfish pessimist, the bumbling adult. A few are killed off quickly, and with so little character development, it is hard to care about the survivors’ circumstances, which are fairly sketchily described. Although each part begins with an interesting survival tip, the action lags, reading more like a camp to-do list, until the group decides to send out an exploration party. Those at camp experience an uneventful rescue, while those on the trail see some hardships including, for one, a death-defying swim down a set of rapids. An underlying theme seems to indicate that if they had only had a knife, things might have been different. In an unexpected closing scene, one finally floats up from the wreckage long after the rescue.
However, they have always had a hatchet, and many youngsters will wish the characters had read the classic of the same name. (Adventure. 8-12)