I was familiar with this book as it is used extensively in junior high and high schools, especially for “reluctant readers”, but I’d never read it. It meets the primary requirement of being short, and theoretically speaks to the “youth these days” demographic. Except no. Instead I got a “hello fellow kids” vibe from it. And not just because it’s dated (1967).
My main quibble is that it seemed so set up to me. There used to be an author, Gary Paulsen, who specialized in books for those who worried about how to get adolescent boys to read, Hatchet being the most famous, and this book seems to fall into that same genre. What bothered me the most about them was how mechanical they seemed, plot wise. Not unlike generic bodice-rippers, for that matter. So teenage boys, without a parent or hardly a girl in sight, making poor choice after poor choice, as teens are wont to do. There is gang fighting, well, as much of a gang as is possible in rural America, and the weapon of choice is a knife. I believe some of the more incorrigible youth smoked. But somehow, there is redemption, and most of the characters (except for the dead ones, of course) have Learned a Lesson by the end. Damn, kids.
I want to add that I know there is a film version (which I have not seen) that stars a very young Tom Cruise. Yeah, that tracks.