Monday, May 9, 2016

REVIEW: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Author: Scott O'Dell

This book is loosely based on a true story of a native girl who was left on an island for 18 years in the early 1800s.  

Karana lives on a beautiful island with her people. Her father is chief, and she has an older sister and younger brother. One day Aleut hunters come to the island. They offer a portion of the animals they kill in return for permission to camp on the island for an extended time. But, when the hunt ends, they refuse to pay, offering only cheap trinkets instead of the food that they promised to share. A fight breaks out, and Karana's father is killed. Life changes for the tribe. They are afraid the Aleuts will return and kill more of them. So, when a ship arrives and they have the chance to leave the island and relocate, the villagers all board the ship bound for another land. But Karana's little brother has accidentally been left behind on the island. Karana has to make a choice....she dives into the sea and swims back to the island. She watches the ship sail away, and she is left on the Island of the Blue Dolphins with her brother. She spent 18 years on the island, waiting for a ship to come back to get her. 

I loved this book when I was 12. I remember being totally impressed that this girl knew how to build shelter, how to hunt and cook food, and to survive.  She battled the loneliness by befriending animals and keeping busy. The final chapter of the book gives some information about the actual legend of the girl that lived on the island alone from 1835-1853.

I think O'Dell did an excellent job of fictionalizing the legend into a story of a young woman who was strong enough to survive. As an adult re-reading the story, I researched the actual woman who lived alone for so many years. The story is bitter-sweet.  After 18 years on the island, she was found and brought to Mission Santa Barbara. The woman was about 50 years old, and was an immediate sensation. Everyone wanted to meet her and many presents were given to her. But sadly, she died of dysentery only seven weeks after being brought to the mainland.  Maybe it would have been better to leave her on the island? She did have some happy weeks with other people and seemed to enjoy seeing and experiencing civilization that had previously been outside her knowledge.  But, just like the story of Pocahontas, the real story is much different than the fictionalized story. The woman was not a young woman, but estimated at 50+ years. And the story doesn't have a happy ending. Her immune system couldn't handle the bacteria and other invisible dangers that comes with civilization. She survives nearly 20 years on a deserted island, only to die of dysentery. She was buried at Mission Santa Barbara. 

The Island of the Blue Dolphins is today called San Nicolas and is located about 75 miles southwest of Los Angeles. In 2012, archeologists found what they thought might be the cave that the woman survived in for so many years. But the island is now used as a naval base, and authorities halted the dig before it could be completed, citing federal laws and tribal concerns. 

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