Monday, July 19, 2021

Reading Through History: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (1960)

Island of the Blue Dolphins is the story of Karana, a young Native American girl who, after a series of very difficult events, is left to live alone on her family's island off the coast of California in the 1840s. The novel describes the life she builds for herself and explores the challenges and joys of living so closely with nature with only animal companionship.

I never read this book as a kid because I almost never read any historical fiction as a kid. A few years ago I read O'Dell's The Captive (1979), and it was so dark and depressing that I wondered whether I could ever stomach another book by him, and I continued avoiding this one. Thankfully, though, a reading challenge that cropped up on Instagram this summer required a book set on an island, and I was finally encouraged to pick this one up. I listened to the audiobook, and though survival stories are not my favorite genre, there is undoubtedly something special about this book.

From the beginning, the writing is simply beautiful. I have images in my mind of scenes from this book that I can still replay in vivid detail weeks after finishing the story. O'Dell is not a flowery, purple writer, but he has such a strong command of language that he really knows how to paint a picture with just the right number of words. I feel as though I know Karana and have lived alongside her through her experience on the island. 

This is a short book, but it bears a strong impact. It didn't become a personal favorite, but objectively I can absolutely see why it's so beloved and why it won a Newbery. I'll be glad to have my own kids read it in the coming years. 

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