Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Title: Island of the Blue Dolphins
Author: Scott O'Dell
Publication Date: 1960
Pages: 184
Genre: Classic / Historical / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I read it as a child
Date Completed: 3/17/16

Summary: First, her community is betrayed and attacked by Aleut seal hunters. Then, she ends up left behind on the small island, where she lives in solitude for nearly two decades.

What I Thought: I loved this book as a kid. It's not surprising it won the Newbery medal back in the day. It's an engaging, enchanting story that is written beautifully. Best of all, it's based loosely on a real woman.

As a kid, and as an adult, I loved this book because of its adventure and excitement. Castaway stories have always appealed to me for some reason - maybe it's the introvert in me longing for my own shot at true isolation. I wouldn't want to stay forever, I know, but a month or two completely alone on a tropical island...I don't think I would complain that much, provided I had brought a suitcase full of books and all the food and drink needed. O'Dell's Karana does not exactly choose this life, but she certainly thrives in it. She conquers nature time and again in an effort to not only survive, but thrive. O'Dell's writing style remains simplistic enough for young readers and beautiful enough in its simplicity for older ones. It's a classic and an award winner for a reason.

Reading it now, as an adult and a feminist, I realize I love it for enough more reasons. O'Dell disempowers the chauvinistic gender roles of Karana's tribe one by one. Karana has lived her life believing only men should make weapons or hunt. Women are meant for the work back at the huts, raising children and preparing food. A familiar tune sung the world over. When first alone, Karana fears making weapons of her own because she has been taught such an act will led to her own destruction. Yet, necessity and survival prevail. Turns out, she's completely capable of doing all the "man" work and the sky does not fall. O'Dell comes out and preaches a feminist message - let's remember, this was written and published in 1960; second wave feminism had yet to arrive on the scene. Yet, by empowering Karana and allowing her to thrive in unexpected and even taboo ways, he makes a big statement for the era. Even now, I relish watching Karana come into her own and realize the extent of her own talents and abilities. 

It's a beautiful book. As I said, it's a classic for a reason. To retain popularity and relevance over the decades is not an easy task. Yet, O'Dell has done it with his timeless story and beautiful mastery of the written word. This is a must-read for anyone, not just the young. They, however, may have the imaginations best equipped for embracing it.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Absolutely. Definitely when I have children, if not before.

A Reduced Review: A childhood favorite for so many reasons - a rediscovered grown-up favorite because I can now see and appreciate its empowering message.


  1. I remember wearing this book out in middle school. I read it a couple of years ago as one of the 100 Best Childrens Chapter Books and, like you, was delighted to find I still loved it.

    1. Yes! I was so happy to not only still love it, but still find it so relatable. Props to Scott O'Dell for writing something so timeless.