32 pages 1 hour read

Gary Paulsen


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1978

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Summary and Study Guide


Tracker by Gary Paulsen (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1984) follows a boy’s journey tracking a deer and coming to terms with the imminent death of his grandfather. The novel won the Society of Midland Authors Award for Children's Fiction (1985) and was named an ALA Best Book For Young Adults. Gary Paulsen (1931-2021) was an American author of over 100 books for young readers, three of which received Newbery Honors: Dogsong (1985), Hatchet (1986), and The Winter Room (1989). In 1997, the American Library Association awarded Paulsen the Margaret Edwards Award for his lifetime contributions of writing for teens. This guide follows the 2012 Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers eBook edition of Tracker.

Plot Summary

John Borne recently learned that his grandfather (Clay Borne) will die from cancer within the next few months. Fearful of losing his grandfather and how much his own life will change, John denies the possibility of his grandfather’s death, throwing himself into his chores and preparations for deer-hunting season. These distractions help John feel better for a time, until hunting season begins and he sets out on his own, his grandfather having opted to stay behind because he isn’t feeling up to the hunt. Prior to the start of the season, John sees a doe at the edge of the farm one night behaving strangely, but he ultimately dismisses the sight, having much else to worry about.

On the first day of hunting season, John resolves to kill a deer quickly so he can get back to the farm and help his grandfather. After a short search, he finds deer tracks, which he follows, only to find it’s the doe he saw at the farm a few nights before. John tracks her through the forest, resolved not to kill her without learning more about her first. As John’s connection to the doe grows, he begins to equate killing her in the hunt to the cancer killing his grandfather. As he follows her, John doesn’t sleep or eat, and he soon experiences delirium from exhaustion and hunger. Leaving his rifle behind, John convinces himself that if he doesn’t kill the doe then his grandfather won’t die. Instead, he follows the worn-out animal until she collapses and he’s able to touch her for a brief moment before passing out.

When John wakes, the doe is gone, and he returns home to tell his grandfather what happened. His grandfather is overcome with emotion, and John realizes that, while he still fears losing his grandfather, his experience in the woods has let him come to terms with the inevitability of death. The book ends with John dreaming about the doe, never detailing whether he completes deer-hunting season.

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