Book Review: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Rating: ★★★★★

A beautiful story of a “girl Robinson Crusoe.”  Karana is a member of a tribe living on the island of Ghalas-at off the coast of California.  When her tribe decides to leave the island with some ships, she is accidentally left behind with her younger brother, who is killed soon afterward.  She builds a home for herself, befriends a wild dog, and lives alone for many years before being discovered by sailors.

This novel is inspired by the true story of a woman who was left alone on this island for 18 years, called The Lost Woman of San Nicolas.  Very little is known about her.  After leaving the island, she spent the rest of her life at a Catholic mission in California, where no one spoke her language.  O’Dell does incorporate what little is known about her into his story: the leap from the ship, the wild dogs, and the skirt made of cormorant feathers.  He adds an encounter with an Aleut girl, and a few guesses about cultural details of her tribal tradition that may or may not be substantiated historically.

Although the story is pure fiction, it achieved classic status because of its timeless human themes.  O’Dell’s heroine shows great courage in building her shelter, finding food, taming her dog, and finally revealing herself to the island’s visitors.  For many years she lives alone, maintaining not only her own safety and sustenance but also seeking out expressions of beauty and kindness, and caring for the animals within her sphere of influence.  It is a romantic story, but one that is marked by deep loneliness.  In a bittersweet ending, she leaves her lifelong home for the sake of hearing another human voice.

This is a quiet, memorable story of survival and persistence in the face of difficult conditions and profound grief.  Karana’s practical means of surviving against the elements and predators are interesting in themselves, but her courage in facing hunger and danger, and living alone year after year, make her a heroine worth emulating.

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Publication Information: O'Dell, Scott. Island of the Blue Dolphins. . 1960. ISBN: 0440439884.
Categories: 5 Stars, Age 08-12, Books Children Love, Books That Build Character,, Honey For a Child's Heart, NEH Summertime Favorites, Newbery Medal, What Stories Does My Son Need, World Nifty 50
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Posted on May 7, 2009

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