The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Scott O'Dell

Remember the news about the photographed uncontacted Amazon tribe a couple or so weeks ago? I was reminded of that while reading this story about Karana, the girl left behind on the Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Although the tribe called Ghalas-at where Karana belongs wasn't exactly uncontacted, they basically live peacefully in a contained environment within the island. That is until the Aleuts came hunting for otters and then eventually caused the massacre of most of the tribesmen of Ghalas-at.

After the massacre, another ship bearing friendly men offering to rescue the tribe off the island came and took the surviving members into another ship. Karana, also known as Wonapalei or The Girl with the Long Black Hair jumped off the ship in order to be with her brother Ramo who failed to make it to the ship on time. The ship didn't come back for them because of the rough seas. And for sometime the two siblings hope that it would eventually, to no avail.

Some shocking events led to the death of Ramo and Karana was eventually left alone to fend off for herself for around eighteen years on the island. Those years form the meat of the story; how Karana pulls off the feat, living alone, living under fear of the Aleuts who eventually came back to hunt more otters, and then living well without any other human on the island.

What intrigued me is the fact that this story is based on a real-life account of a woman only referred to as The Lost Woman of San Nicolas. Scott O'Dell imagined the life she learned to live while left alone in the island. And what a life that is!

It brings to mind that Tom Hanks movie Castaway. At least that part where she searches for caves and eventually builds a place for her to live. The book is written from Karana's point of view and most of it is limited to survival at the start and eventually how to live. Obviously she is a strong woman to make it on her own. But the book rarely deals with her feelings of loneliness until the time that the Aleuts left the second time. Maybe because her tribe taught her to be tough. Maybe her culture taught her not to wallow. But she sure had a lot of resolve to stay alive and live with the challenges of having wild dogs, of foxes, of not having anyone to talk with on the island and yet she never appeared depressed. Oh gee, maybe it's because I'm so used to reading books that deal with depressive feelings that I look for it in everything I read! Kidding.

Karana is indeed admirable in that way. I can see this book as required reading for young children because of the lessons one can learn from Karana's strength, her change of perspectives after living alone for years, and her eventual longing for human company in the end.

One teeny tiny point is that Karana's memory, or that of the author failed her at one point at came up with the name Kimko who was never mentioned from the beginning and she must have confused it with Nanko, the guy her sister Ulape loves, and the chief Kimki who left the island in search for other safe islands earlier on. Again, no spoiler there. I just have spurts of attention to details thing that gets to me so when a name comes up that wasn't even mentioned before I blame the editor for failing to notice it even.

Then again, maybe it is indeed Karana's memory failing her eventually.

Other than that it's just an ok read. It's quite easy to read. Enough to pass the time while waiting in line for something and it's ten or so pages short of 200 pages. But my heart never raced that much for Karana; maybe because I sensed early on her strength and resolve, that she would be able to tackle everything that's thrown her way. And after reading the final few pages I was right.

This is my tenth book for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. The Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Award in 1961.