Sunday, December 30, 2012

Island of the Blue Dolphins - 1961 Medal

by Scott O'Dell,
read by Tantoo Cardinal

In this survival and adventure story, the tribe of twelve-year-old Karana is moved off its "Island of the Blue Dolphins" (the most remote of the Channel Islands off California, San Nicolas).  Karana leaps off the ship to get her younger brother, who has been left behind.  He dies soon after, and she spends 18 years alone on the island.   Karana makes weapons and hunts, builds a shelter of whale bones and a canoe, fights wild dogs, and explores the island.  There's also a lot of information about the animals of the island and surrounding ocean, such as sea elephants and otter.

Author Scott O'Dell's note at the end of the book states that Karana is based on a real person, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, later baptized Juana Maria, who lived alone on the island from 1835 to 1853.   According to his website, O'Dell came across her story while researching his 1957 adult book, Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal Guide.   More information about the Lone Woman was uncovered in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in 2012, a Navy archaeologist found a cave on San Nicolas that may have been hers

O'Dell, obviously, wrote his book before much of this information became available, and it was likely based on the prevailing legends of the time.  A number of these stories were published in popular magazines in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The Lone Woman was unable to communicate with anyone, so no one really knows how she ended up on the island alone, especially since she died of dysentery only a few weeks after her rescue.

In 1976, O'Dell wrote a sequel, Zia, about Karana's 14-year-old niece by that name, who believes her aunt is still alive, and helps bring about her rescue by George Nidever.

Island of the Blue Dolphins has come under some criticism over the years, for stereotyping of Native Americans.  On the other hand, it's also been praised for having a female minority protagonist (at a time, 1960, when that was not common), and for its environmentalist message.  "Island of the Blue Dolphins," O'Dell wrote, "began in anger, anger at the hunters who invade the mountains where I live and who slaughter everything that creeps or walks or flies."

Native American actress Tantoo Cardinal's reading of the audiobook is lovely.  However, this is a book that might be better "read" in print, to appreciate its beautiful metaphors and imagery.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library. This review also appears on Bookin' It.]

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