ISBN: 0440210232
ISBN 13: 9780440210238
By: Gary Paulsen

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Childhood Currently Reading Fiction Historical Fiction Mystery Realistic Fiction To Read Ya Young Adult Young Adult Fiction

About this book

Two boys, separated by the canyons of time and two vastly different cultures, face the challenges by which they become men. Coyote Runs, an Apache boy, takes part in his first raid -- the one that will usher him into manhood. He is to be a man for but a short time....More than a hundred years later, while camping near Dog Canyon, fifteen-year-old Brennan Cole becomes obsessed with a skull that he finds, pierced by a bullet. He learns that it was the skull of an Apache boy executed by soldiers in 1864. A mystical link joins Brennan and Coyote Runs, and Brennan knows that neither boy will find any peace until Coyote Runs' skull is returned to an ancient sacred place. In a grueling run through the canyon to return the skull, Brennan faces the challenge of his life.

Reader's Thoughts

Ray Ziemer

Gary Paulsen's "Canyons" appealed to me for a number of reasons: First, I am always on the look-out for good young adult fiction to help me understand the higher end of the genre. Second, it takes place in the Southwest - the desert of the ElPaso region, to be exact. Also, it is partly historical novel dealing with Native Americans. And maybe most important, a significant element of the book is the mysterious, supernatural connection between the modern protagonist and the historical Apache boy who came to a violent end.I don't know if this book , or any other by Paulsen, is classified Young Adult. This seems to be aimed at Middle School readers, maybe 8th graders? It seems pretty tame in its writing - simple sentence structure and vocabulary. The plot, with its parallel structure, might be challenging to younger readers. I suppose the author deliberately keeps it simple, not weighing the book down with a lot of flowery description, or unnecessary details about traditional Apache culture and brutalities of the genocidal warfare of the 19th century. Still, I can't help feeling the lack of those things - but then, I'm not the target audience.The story begins with the 1864 story of the Apache boy Coyote Runs who is about to participate as a man in his first raid -- a foray across the border to steal horses from a Mexican herd. Alternating chapters with that narrative is the story of Brennan Cole, a teenager living in modern ElPaso, Texas with his single mom and struggling to find his way in high school. When on a camping trip in the canyons he discovers a human skull, he feels a strange compulsion to do something with it -- to find out its story, to take it where it belongs. Through research, with the help of a trusted teacher, Brennan eventually uncovers the true fate of Coyote Runs, and defying authority, makes a heroic dash back to the canyons to bring the skull of the Apache boy to its proper "spirit place." No explanation is given for the reason for Brennan's psychic connection with the spirit of the dead boy. I was interested in how the author might describe it and make it clear. But Paulsen just lays it out there and expects his readers to accept it. I guess I learn from this -- assuming this book is good example -- that I don't have a clue how to write a successful young adult novel. Because I would have cluttered the pages with more description of the setting, bogged it down with minutiae of Apache culture, added unnecessary scenes to underscore the political/racial background of the time and place, and wasted countless pages trying to justify and explain the supernatural events of the book.This isn't one of them, but Paulsen has written at least three Newbery Honor Books. Comments on line indicate his work is on school reading lists, and enjoyed by young readers who are fans.


Canyons was an exciting and excilerating book. The author's style of dividing the book into two at the begining of the novel gives the reader a better understanding of the two main characters. The characters have a clear connection with each other. The author covers ordinary themes like frindship in a book as extra-ordinary as Canyons.

Melanie Olson

We read this book as a family throughout a recent vacation. It was a creative, thrilling book that encouraged all of us to think ahead and predict outcomes. It was especially fun to read about the box canyons, rock fissures, and yucca plants as we were experiencing each of those. This book is appropriate for older elementary school and junior high/middle school students. Younger readers may need help pronouncing some words and discussing some ideas and concepts.


"I liked how it was about a kid my age" according to my 5th grade cumulative reading log. I started it on 10/13 (1997 I believe) and gave it a 5/6.

Christina Ayala

This book didn't pull me in until around page 75... and when it did, wowzers! Gary Paulsen did it again...this story still has the survival theme that runs through many of his stories which makes me a faithful reader. Canyons is historical fiction ( at least I'm sure most of it's fictional, though the Apaches vs soldiers is probably true) that interweaves two characters from different eras and different cultures. At first it is hard to tell where the story is going and why we are following these two diverse characters. In a swift moment it all becomes clear and the story takes off from there.

Sharon Zink

Quite disappointing. Good writing but substandard plot. Unbelievable. A modern boy finds a human skull in the canyons and believes he hears voice from the person who died telling him what happened and what to do with the skull.

Jill English Johnston

Interesting storyline. Engaging characters. Couldn't put it down.


** spoiler alert ** I enjoy Gary Paulsen's writing. He does inner dialogue really smoothly. This wasn't my favorite book of his, partially because he *Spoiler Alert!* killed off one of the point of view characters during the first part of the book. I was hoping for a time travel book, or for the two boys to interact in some interesting way. Instead the main character just has the compelling need to move a skeleton so its owner can rest in peace. I would hope spirits don't really hang around for a hundred years trying to ge someone to do this for them.


This book was a bit disappointing, but the story was somewhat interesting. I thought the culmination of events at the end could have been written better. I was expecting more because of my enthusiasm for another Paulsen book, "Hatchet." I read it because many of last year's students read the Paulsen books in my classroom library.


** spoiler alert ** Adventure story told from the points of view of Coyote Runs, a long-dead Apache teenager, and Brennan, the quiet teenager who unexpectedly finds the dead boy's skull. Paulsen’s usual action-adventure is here tempered a bit by his thoughtful protagonists, both of whom are struggling to find a way to gain respect and acceptance. Paulsen, though outside the Native culture, attempts to represent the Apache culture sympathetically and without skepticism, and Brennan is inexplicably drawn to find out more about the mysterious boy, and conducts secret research, with the help of Mr. Homesley, a trusted biology teacher. The historic Indian culture is presented through the prism of a 20th century boy, which connects it to modern times. (The book was published 20 years ago!) What is less believable is Brennan's belief that Coyote Runs' spirit somehow is present in himself, and that the Apache boy’s spirit drives him to carry the skull to a sacred place.


Paulsen is normally a good writer. I'm not sure what was going on in this book. While I enjoy many of his tales, this one just didn't do it for me and the writing was kind of haphazard.The story tells the tale of two different boys. One is Coyote Runs who has been invited to his first raid and takes place a little bit in the past while the Apache nation roamed the area. It is during this raid that he faces danger and so affects Brennan, the boy in the future's life. Brennan is a mostly self sufficient boy who is on a camping trip when he finds a skull. Not knowing why, he takes the skull home and strange things start to happen. He is determined to find out how to make himself stop feeling so crazy and believes the skull is behind it.The characters in this book weren't really developed all that well. Their motivations aren't really explained and they seem to change their minds for no reason at all. Poor Coyote Runs is barely in the book at all before it is all turned to Brennan, and really, he isn't that interesting of a character.The writing may appeal to younger boys but I wasn't taken with it. It was too rushed and things weren't explained enough. I liked the concept of the book but thought the execution could be better. It probably won't turn me off of Paulsen altogether; indeed he has some very good books out there, this just probably wouldn't be one that I'd recommend.CanyonsCopyright 1990184 pagesReview by M. Reynard 2011


The Short and Sweet of ItCoyote Runs takes his place as a man among the Apache as he goes on his first raid. Over one hundred years later, Brennan Cole goes on a camping trip where he finds a skull which begins a journey connecting him to the past.A Bit of a RambleI first read this book way back in the early 90s, and I fell in love. I may not have remembered the story, but I still remember the feeling I had after reading, that hard to explain sinking feeling. Not "sinking" like bad, but sinking like good. A depression that the story is over, a bittersweet acceptance of the ending and an appreciation of the journey the story took you on. Few books truly give me this feeling, few books truly touch the soul. Canyons did that for me when I was a young girl, and I devoured many of Paulsen's other works because of this. And I must say that many did truly speak to me.Obviously, I am a much different person at 31 than I was at 11, and that difference is certainly felt upon re-reading a book which was so moving. While I enjoyed the story, I didn't love it the way I did back then. I do still appreciate the same things about the story though: the feeling of a connection to the past, a connection to a place, the strength of a young boy's resolve, the beauty of an adult's acceptance. This is a simple story which feels epic. All of these things - which are way more clear if you've read the book - are reason enough to read the book, and I highly urge you to pick up a Paulsen if you get the chance.Like The Giver, I read Canyons while feeding Madison Paige during the night. I think I'm going to pick up another Paulsen tonight for my next book...probably Hatchet as that one also touched my soul back in my pre-teen years.


Coyote Runs is trying to become a man as he grows up in a tribe that requires many rituals and marks of manliness to become accepted. In the same place at another point in time we watch Brennen Cole as he runs through the canyons and is struggling on his journey to become a man. The paralleled journeys add a great element to the story but by the time that I got halfway through the novel I enjoyed Coyote Runs' story much more than Brennan so I separated myself from the novel. Brennan finds a skull with a bullet hole in it that he obsesses over and it becomes a sort of mystery to him that he must solve. He eventually finds out that it is the skull of an apache boy who was murder by soldiers in the mid 1800's. I would recommend this novel to people who have a love for Paulsen.Honestly this wasn't my favorite of Gary Paulsen's books

Hilary Lemon

Required Author - Gary PaulsenI love Gary Paulsen. In fourth grade, I read Hatchet and Brian's Winter and thought they were fantastic. And they were. Something about Canyons, though, didn't rub me the right way.In Canyons, Brennan Cole discovers a skull which, unbeknownst to him, belongs to Coyote Runs, a young Apache boy shot by American soldiers a century before. The book features a sort of supernatural connection between Brennan and the skull, which I found a little off-putting and atypical of Paulsen's usual style. Brennan, with the help of a biology teacher (and a close relationship that would be considered inappropriate today), discovers the secret of the skull and restores it to the proper mystical resting place.Paulsen's a well-informed outdoors writer. His character Brennan is likable and accessible to young readers, especially male readers. I would recommend this to middle school and young high school male readers, but it wouldn't be my first choice pick.

petes likes bacon

Canyons is a realistic fiction book by Gary Paulsen that takes place in the canyons of New Mexico and just outside them. This book is about two boys, an Apache boy named Coyote Runs who is going on his first raid to become a man, and Brennan who lives in modern times and finds Coyote Runs skull. They have a connection through "canyons of time" and Brennan knows he has to return he skull to the "medicine place" of Coyote Runs. I liked this book because it was a fast paced action story and had lots of description and sensory detail. When reading Canyons I could see the setting. I would recommend this book for readers who like action books and have read other Gary Paulsen books. I give this book four stars.

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