Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell, was selected by Amy at Hope is the Word for Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club for May. I’m running a little behind with it – first I forgot about this, then the local library didn’t have it on its shelves (though its web site said it did), and I had to put it on hold and wait for it. But it is a fairly quick read, so it didn’t take long to get through it. The cover to the left is the cover on the one that I read, a 50th anniversary edition.
I wanted to read it partly because I’d heard the name for years and wanted to see what it was about, and partly because Scott O’Dell authored one of my favorite books for young people that I read years ago, The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day about William Tyndale.
The book is based on the true story of a woman known as Juana Maria, or the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, who was found alone on San Nicolas Island off the coast of California in the 1850s. No one could understand her language, but she was thought to be the last member of the Nicolenos who had lived on the island but were massacred by Aleuts who had come there to hunt otter. A mission on the California coast sent a ship to rescue the remnant of the tribe, but somehow a young girl was left behind (there are various versions of how and why she was left). The ship made it back to California, but bad weather and then the sinking of the ship and the shortage of other available ships meant no one could go back to pick up this one girl. She was discovered about twenty years later.
Scott O’Dell took the bones of the story and imagined what a young girl alone on an island would have had to deal with. He named her Karana. As you can imagine, finding food and shelter would have been the first order of business, and she would have faced various dangers, such as wild animals, storms, other visitors to the island, etc. The great majority of her time would have been spent in providing for herself and making what she needed as well as exploring the rest of the island.
O’Dell did a great job imagining what kinds of things she might have done and thought. I’m not sure whether he researched what similar tribes did or just used his imagination to describe how she used various plants and animal parts for weapons, tools, and shelter.
At the beginning she had no problem killing animals for either food or skins or feathers or tools, but as she gradually befriended some, in the absence of anyone else available for friendship, she decided she couldn’t kill any more.
I wasn’t just totally blown away by the book, but it was definitely interesting, and I am glad to have read it.