1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins (or, 10 reasons why dogs are a girl’s best friend)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 4/5

Island of the Blue Dolphins is the story of Karana, an Indian girl who lives for years alone on a small island in the Pacific, waiting for her tribe to one day return. In a tale filled with courage and self-discovery, she learns how to hunt for food, build a shelter out of whale bones and fashion weapons to kill the wild dogs on the island.

I remember loving this book as a kid. I envied Karana’s freedom to be on her own without needing anybody else’s help. Her resourcefulness and perseverance is really admirable, as well as her decision to go against gender norms in order to survive. But reading this book as an adult, I found her situation really sad and depressing as her loneliness really comes through in her thoughts and actions. It’s especially heartbreaking when thinking how this book is based on the true story of Juana Maria, an Indian girl who was left alone for eighteen years on San Nicolas Island in the 19th century.

Karana is a person who has essentially lost everyone she has ever known – first her father, then her tribe and lastly her brother. Yet she takes this all in stride and finds a way to survive even though she knows that no one is coming to rescue her. She always finds a way to move forward and never looks back to the past. She only fails once when she tries to sail to the mainland, and instead, is forced to return to the island. This marks a turning point for her as she accepts her fate and realizes that the island is now her home.

My favorite scenes revolved around Karana’s developing friendships with the various wild animals on the island. Rontu and Karana’s easy companionship has always been one of my favorite human-dog relationships in print form as they go from enemies to best friends. He’s a constant friend at her side and never lets her down. She also takes in a wounded otter, a couple of birds and a fox, making her a regular pied piper.

There is something about living a life on a small island in the middle of the wide ocean that helps emphasize her isolation. Much of the book follows her day-to-day actions, leaving no room for dialogue. Even the people she meets towards the end of the book speak a different language than her, making you wonder if maybe she should have stayed on the island she called home instead of going with them, because she communicated just as well with her animal friends.

Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins has a lot to offer everyone. It’s an easy read; the sentence structure is fairly basic and the plot is simple to follow. Relatively short, this Newbery winner combines action, adventure and meaningful relationships in a riveting tale that leaves you wondering how you would have fared in Karana’s position.

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