Island of the Blue Dolphins
Scott O’Dell (J Fiction)
Twelve-year-old Karana loved her village of Ghalas-at where everyone had their place and knew their role. Life was good until the day the Aleut ship—with its two red sails—arrived at the Island of the Blue Dolphins to hunt otters. What should have been an amicable partnership turned into betrayal and bloodshed and would mark the beginning of a new life for Karana and her people. With most of their men dead, the villagers spot another ship, this one bearing white sails and wanting to take them all to somewhere safe. But fate intervened and Karana found herself abandoned and alone on her beloved island. As she awaits the ship’s return, Karana learns how to survive while avoiding danger both on and off the island. As the years pass, she continues to scour the water looking for the sails: white will reunite her with her family while red will surely bring her death.
Based on the true story of a Nicoleño woman who survived alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years, Island of the Blue Dolphins is a story of courage, survival, and perseverance. With only herself to rely on, Karana quickly disregards the laws of her village which forbade women to make weapons. She also finds a safe place to sleep, stocks food, constructs a home, and secures her property. Only when she becomes injured does she truly understand the precarious position that she is in: if she is incapacitated, no one else will care for her and she will most certainly die. This new realization causes an awakening in Karana and we see her mature almost overnight.
It would have been easy and appropriate for O’Dell to allow Karana time to grieve and buckle under the weight of her predicament and tremendous responsibilities. Instead, he gives us a character who rises above her circumstances to forge a new life for herself while finding courage, compassion, and companionship along the way.
Although O’Dell gave us Karana in 1960, I hope that a new generation discovers her and finds a heroine who doesn’t need a wand or cape or superhuman abilities to prove her worth or to define who she is. Karana shows us that often times a great heroine is strong and brave and kind not because of who she is, but because life requires it of her and she fearlessly chooses to answer the call.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com
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