Scott O'Dell 1903–
American novelist and journalist.
O'Dell's Newbery Award-winning novel Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) is generally regarded as a classic of young adult literature. An exploration of the growth in confidence and sensitivity of an Indian girl who is left alone on an island for eighteen years, the novel is praised for its psychological complexity Island of the Blue Dolphins and O'Dell's subsequent books for young adults are based on historical persons and events; as Barbara Wersba notes, O'Dell "uses history as the mainspring for revealing truth about human beings: their passion, their grief."
O'Dell was raised in California, and the majority of his novels are set on the West Coast or in southwestern states. Many of O'Dell's works concern the Spanish colonization of the Southwest and the conflicts between the explorers and the native peoples. His Seven Serpents Trilogy is praised for its intricate detailing of Mayan culture. Comprising The Captive (1979), The Feathered Serpent (1981), and The Amethyst Ring (1983), the trilogy portrays a young New World missionary who disapproves of his compatriots' treatment of the Mayan Indians.
O'Dell has won critical recognition for his courageous and perceptive protagonists who are often caught in conflict between their needs for both independence and social integration. Such tension is evident in Karana, the central character of Island of the Blue Dolphins, who is left to her own resources after enemies expel her tribe and a wild dog kills her brother. Although Karana is initially embittered, she eventually befriends both a girl from the enemy tribe and the wild dog, displaying what some critics consider a balance between self-reliance and interdependence. Like Karana, Esteban de Sandoval in The King's Fifth (1966), Tom Barton in The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day (1975), Julian Escobar in The Seven Serpents Trilogy, and Zia in Zia (1976), the sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, are all protagonists whose moral and emotional strengths are tested through separation from their groups. The characters either reenter their society with a changed perspective or decide to leave permanently. Most critics agree that the strength of these first-person narrators, combined with a vivid, understated prose style, are the qualities which give O'Dell's works their impact.
(See also Children's Literature Review, Vol. 1; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 61-64; and Something about the Author, Vol. 12.)
Ellen Lewis Buell
["Island of the Blue Dolphins"] is a romance only in the older sense of the word. It has no hero, no frills, none of the usual feminine props, but I think that thoughtful readers will be willing to forego these for the sake of an unusual experience.The setting is a remote California island where, from 1835 to 1853 an Indian woman, known to history as the Lost Woman of San Nicolas lived alone. Mr. O'Dell has used the few facts known about her as the basis for a haunting story of a young girl who is accidentally left behind when tragedy had decimated the tribe. Karana, bereft of her people, of weapons, even of cooking pots—her young brother killed by wild dogs—not only manages to exist but to wring a measure of comfort, beauty, even joy in her solitude. Mr. O'Dell never sentimentalizes her thoughts, nor ascribes to this primitive girl too much poetic feeling. His style, spare, unemotional but evocative, is beautifully fitted to his subject. (p. 40)
Ellen Lewis Buell, in a review of "Island of the Blue Dolphins," in The New York Times Book Review, March 22, 1960, pp. 40-1.
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New York Herald Tribune Books
Occasionally we rejoice to find a book not written to fulfill any need or with any audience in mind, but simply because the subject has seized the author's imagination and he had to write it. These are usually books that quietly take hold of us and make our lives the richer for having read them. Such is "Island of the Blue Dolphins." We will never forget the quiet courage and resourcefulness of Karana, creating a beautiful and satisfying existence for herself during eighteen solitary years on a rock island in the Pacific. Scott O'Dell, basing his story on a true incident which occurred in the early nineteenth century, wisely lets Karana tell in a simple, matter-of-fact way the details of her extraordinary experience. It is hard to imagine a young girl who would not be held spellbound by its quiet poignancy or a boy who would not be enthralled by her struggle to survive against tremendous odds—the threatening wild dogs, the scarcity of food, an earthquake and a tidal wave….
There is a beautiful feeling for the passing of the seasons, and for the companionship offered by the presence around her of many animals, the massive sea elephants, the beautiful sea otters, the cormorants, the blue dolphins that leap through the waters and the pets who become her greatest solace. Above all, there is a deep sense of peace and quiet triumph as Karana achieves happiness on her wild and lonely island.
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Ruth H. Viguers
[As The King's Fifth opens, Estéban de Sandoval is awaiting] trial for defrauding the King of Spain of his rightful share of the treasure found in the Land of Cíbola…. [Estéban] hopes that by writing down in careful sequence the story of the search for gold, by reliving the fighting, hardships, suffering, treachery, fears, and disappointments, he will find the answer to all that puzzles him: even he succumbed to the fever for gold. Captain Mendoza is not clearly characterized, nor should he be: the record is by "a maker of maps and not a scrivener." Estéban sees him as the leader of the conducta and does not censure him for thinking of nothing but gold. To the reader he is the personification of greed, and the other members of the band, with the exception of Father Francisco and Zia, are shadows of evil…. The recording of the trial, which periodically interrupts the adventures, does not annoy but rather gives opportunities to look back and consider the meaning of events. Mr. O'Dell must have been deeply immersed in the history and literature of the conquistadores, for Indians, villages, landscapes, lake of gold, all are vivid. As would be expected from the author of Island of the Blue Dolphins, the writing is subtly beautiful, often moving, and says more than may be caught in one reading. (pp. 721-22)
Ruth H. Viguers, in a review of "The Kings Fifth," in The Horn Book Magazine,...
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[In The King's Fifth] a small party sets out to search for fortune, with a Zuni girl as their guide. In the vast country that would become Arizona they see terraced adobe cities whose people worship the sun, marvel at the huge Abyss which in time would be called the Grand Canyon, and find treasure that inflames their passions and eventually destroys them.
How the seven travelers are reduced to two—Esteban and Father Francisco—is a harsh narrative illuminated by the beauty of the enormous land and the simple integrity of the Indians.
Although the story pits white men against red men, and Spaniard against Spaniard, it is not simplified into a contest of the good against the bad. The worst men here have qualities of courage and occasional kindness, the best have lapses and limitations. Esteban de Sandoval is a wholly believable lad, vulnerable to the glitter of gold as well as to the charm of Zia, the Zuni girl, and the beauty of earth and sky. Generally the Indians are better people than the white invaders, but they are not idealized. Even the captivating Zia, with her tinkling bells and her love of Spanish horses, is a native girl rather than a heroine.
When Esteban is left alone, to bury the priest and dispose of the treasure, the story reaches a crisis of decision. His hard-won realization of false and enduring values is a part of the maturity that comes from the arduous adventure. His...
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JOHN GILLESPIE and DIANA LEMBO
The rare quality of [Island of the Blue Dolphins] lies in Mr. O'Dell's ability to depict the majesty of the heroine's lonely struggle…. The story is well written and the main character is vividly presented. (p. 47)
The heroine's control of her emotions and her realistic appraisal of the situation are stressed by the author. The motivations of the Indian girl are examined in greater depth than is usually accorded the fictional Indian. Young adults will admire and respect Karana's fortitude. Her transformation from her early instincts of fear and revenge to her acceptance of love for all living things is well presented. The author's knowledge of the marine life gives added interest. (p. 49)
John Gillespie and Diana Lembo, "Overcoming Emotional Growing Pains: 'Island of the Blue Dolphins'," in their Juniorplots: A Book Talk Manual for Teachers and Librarians, R. R. Bowker Company, 1967, pp. 47-50.
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Plot and character are deftly interlinked in the story [The Dark Canoe] told by Nathan Clegg, sixteen, who had sailed with his brothers Jeremy and Caleb from Nantucket to find a sunken ship, the Amy Foster, at Magdalena Bay in Baja California. Jeremy, Nathan's idol, has mysteriously disappeared while Caleb, after the discovery of the underwater location of the Amy Foster, has, in a diver's outfit, been probing the wreck…. The skill of the author is revealed in his masterly treatment of a contrapuntal theme suggested by [Herman] Melville's Moby Dick. The "dark canoe" that Nathan discovers afloat is Queequeg's coffin, which had rescued Ishmael from destruction. On his sixteenth birthday Nathan receives a copy of Moby Dick from Caleb, who limps like Captain Ahab because of a childhood injury to one of his legs. Caleb also can quote much of the book from memory. And at the end, Nathan—who has discovered that Jeremy had been a false idol—not only learns to understand and love the once feared and hated Caleb, but saves him from destruction by quoting Starbuck's last and futile appeal to Captain Ahab. The story combines reminiscences from both sides of the American continent—elements of whaling stories, Indian and Spanish details—with suspense and mystery, highly significant events, and character revelation as well as character development. A story of tragic implications, but one in which two brothers find the right...
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The Times Literary Supplement
This eerie story [The Dark Canoe] is set on board a nineteenth-century vessel outward bound from Nantucket. At the start, the captain has apparently been murdered. He was the favourite brother of the cabinboy-narrator Nathan: golden Jeremy, in every way a contrast to lame scarred Caleb their eldest brother, who keeps to his cabin, having lost his captain's papers on Jeremy's evidence that he mishandled the ship-wrecked whaler for which they are searching….
This powerful story creates splendidly the sense of suspicion after the murder, of greed and suppressed mutiny on board, and Nathan's troubled realization that his brothers are exactly the opposite of what he thought them.
"Brothers at Sea," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3536, December 4, 1969, p. 1390.
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If Bright Morning gave her story to an anthropologist, she would tell it the way Scott O'Dell does in ["Sing Down the Moon"]. In simple statements, almost devoid of emotion, the Navaho girl relates her capture by Spanish slavers, her escape and return to Canyon de Chelly just before the United States Army moves against her people. Understatement counterpoints and emphasizes the wanton destruction of crops and livestock to starve the Navahos into submission, the tribe's suffering on the Long March and during internment at Fort Sumner…. This shielding of the deeply personal is true Indian narrative but sacrifices the intimacy and depth one expects in a first-person viewpoint. Without fully understanding the mystic triangle of Indian, land and religion, especially strong in the Navaho, the reader can appreciate Bright Morning's strength and determination as real as that of her people and the way her story is faithful to Navaho history.
Betty Baker, in a review of "Sing Down the Moon," in The New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1970, p. 34.
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John Rowe Townsend
The title of Island of the Blue Dolphins, lovely in sound and evocative in all its key words (for the 'blue' transfers itself to the ocean), sums up the attraction of the O'Dell world. But it is not a matter of settings alone; this is an admirable novel; and its successor, The King's Fifth (1966), is to my mind even finer, although in Britain it is not well known. The subsequent O'Dell books, up to the time of writing, have been slighter.
Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) accepts some severe limitations. It is the story of an Indian girl who survives for many years alone on a small and desolate island. For much of its course it has only one human character; so all that large part of the more usual story which depends on dialogue and the interaction of personality is ruled out. The heroine is uneducated, has never been beyond her own tiny territory, has no wider frame of reference; so abstract thought is almost ruled out, too, and figures of speech can only be of the simplest. There is little plot in the conventional sense; the story goes on and on with a good deal of sameness over a long period; its development is in the character of the heroine herself, and this is a theme which it is extremely difficult to make interesting for young readers.
Yet all these limitations have been converted into strengths. The fact that there is only one central character, in this remote and isolated setting, makes...
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["Child of Fire"] brims with violence as well as cruelty, usually involving animals. It also focuses so narrowly on a few minor and unfortunate aspects of Chicano culture that it would be an exceptionally poor introduction for young readers to that large, vivid ethnic group.
The narrator is Delaney, an Anglo (white non-Chicano) juvenile parole officer in San Diego…. Strangely, all of Delaney's charges have Spanish surnames.
Delaney tries to keep his "cases" from returning to jail, an apparently impossible job. Most of his charges are stereotypes: emotional, thin-skinned resentful, with an infantile sense of honor, and macho down to their stomping boots.
He takes particular interest in two of the boys, members of rival gangs (the Owls and the Conquistadores). Ernie Sierra, an Owl, seems irrevocably lost to society and, indeed, turns out to be. Manuel Castillo, however, reminds Delaney somehow of his own son, and he gets special treatment. Delaney first sees him across the border, in the Tijuana bull ring, when Castillo makes an espontáneo, an unauthorized leap from the seats into the ring to expose himself to the bull's horns.
The gangs haven't had a really satisfying rumble for years, due in part to Delaney's encouragement of a substitute form of rivalry between them—organized cock-fighting. This barbarous gambling "sport" is illegal on both sides of the border, but the...
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Despite the objective quality of the narrative [in Child of Fire], both the story and the characters lack dimension; and even if the author is aware of the historical, psychological, and linguistic elements of the Southwest, he fails to arouse a genuine interest in his hero. There are a few bright spots in the realistic scenes of bull fighting and cock fighting; but, in general, the offhand manner of the style only adds to the banality of the story. (pp. 695-96)
Paul Heins, in a review of "Child of Fire," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. L, No. 6, December, 1974, pp. 695-96.
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Carolyn T. Kingston
Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Yearling [by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings] and It's Like This, Cat [by Emily Neville] illustrate what can happen to a hero or heroine separated from normal companionship. These children use love for an animal to fill the void in their lives…. All three stories show that the protagonist gains strength to cope…. (p. 145)
These stories are among the most beautiful compositions available for children because the emotion of love described has the shimmering quality of spirituality, purified of much of the selfishness that is so great a part of what is commonly called love. The beauty of the motivating thought is communicated through the phrasing and construction of each story to such an extent that one must sample the atmospheres created by the authors to appreciate it. Like a sunset, the experience contained in these books is dulled rather than enhanced by description. The protagonists, young as they are, find love more important than life. The welfare of another being is more essential than is their own in a rare essence of emotion. The loss of the object of such a love is carved from the tragic sense of life; the fact of its existence is the balance inherent in this love. (p. 146)
Although [Island of the Blue Dolphins] is based in fact, it is the author's beautiful transcription of it that makes it tragedy. Rich in metaphor, so appropriate in the Indian manner...
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Jon C. Stott
Each year, with the increase in number of children's books, it is often necessary to retreat from the volume of present publication to reexamine those works which have, for various reasons, endured to become classics. One such work is Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins….
Although the desert island motif has been a standard fictional theme since Shakespeare's Tempest and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, O'Dell is faced with several new problems. Because he is writing children's fiction, he must create a story in which narrative pacing is relatively fast. His specific subject matter, the lonely eighteen years spent by Karana on the Island of the Blue Dolphins, raises difficulties…. For a large part of her story, Karana does very little except engage in the diurnal chores of survival. How, then, has O'Dell created a story which continues to grip young readers fourteen years after its publication?
First, the story of Karana's isolation does not begin until the end of the eighth chapter, after her brother Ramu has been killed by the pack of wild dogs. By so delaying the story of her survival, O'Dell is able to create a sense of the social milieu in which she had developed, a feeling of the fear and distrust of the Aleuts, which she will harbor during her solitude, and a contrast between the activity she had known with the tribe and the desolation she faces alone. Moreover, the basic character...
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Margaret A. Dorsey
O'Dell's [The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day] is a fairly interesting, occasionally exciting historical novel that centers on the intrigue involved in the printing and distribution of the first English translation of the New Testament. The narrator is a 16-year-old English orphan, Tom Barton, who together with his 25-year-old Uncle Jack, is a seaman engaged in trade—and smuggling—with the Low Countries and Germany. It is the smuggler's vocation that brings Tom into contact with William Tyndale, whose ambition it is to translate the Bible into common English. Eventually Tyndale has his translation printed in Germany and Tom successfully smuggles it into England…. The story opens in 1524 and spans some ten years, ending with Tyndale's execution as a heretic. The religious and political turmoil of the time is presented with clarity, and in addition to Tyndale himself, King Henry VIII and printer Peter Quentel play their real-life roles. It's a well-guided journey into the past for young teens with some interest in the era; however, it lacks the vitality and the basic situational appeal of some of O'Dell's previous novels. (pp. 60-1)
Margaret A. Dorsey, in a review of "The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day," in School Library Journal, Vol. 22, No. 4, December, 1975, pp. 60-1.
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Since good story ideas do not come along like streetcars even to master storytellers, it is a happy day when a compelling writer like Scott O'Dell meets a compelling subject like William Tyndale, the sixteenth-century martyr who first translated the Bible into English. An unlikely subject, one may think, for the author of "Island of the Blue Dolphins," "The King's Fifth," and other books set on the Pacific Coast. Yet Mr. O'Dell [in "The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day"] seems completely at home in Europe in a conniving, turbulent age, and his subject gives him scope to examine a theme that has obviously haunted him for some time….
That this new story has some symbolic relation for [O'Dell] with his past books is apparent as soon as one sees that the name of Tom Barton's ship is the same as one of Scott O'Dell's earlier books—"The Black Pearl." Why "The Black Pearl"?
Before finding the answer, one must ship aboard with young Tom Barton, the narrator, and take part in the dangerous adventures that await anyone smuggling into England the new English Bible…. It is a race against time—for William Tyndale a race to get his Bible off European presses before his enemies, the heretic-hunters, stop him; for Tom Barton, Tyndale's friend, a race to avoid having to take on two of these very enemies as his partners.
Who wins the race? The enemies, it would appear, for William Tyndale, betrayed by one who...
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Karana, the Indian girl left to survive alone for 18 years [in Island of the Blue Dolphins] was a one-in-a-million child protagonist—a loner free to work her destiny totally without interference from adults….
The jacket copy of Scott O'Dell's new book, Zia, notes that O'Dell has received many requests to tell what happened to Karana, and one can see in this novel some of the tension between the pressure to produce a good storyteller's sequel and the author's reluctance to violate an essentially self-contained episode, based on fact, with a fictional post script.
Thus the heroine of this story is not Karana, who reappears only briefly and tragically later on, but her niece Zia. Zia and her brother Mando are apparently the only other survivors of their tribe, and they live and work under the padres of the Santa Barbara mission where they conform despite a passive, impersonal resistance to their Spanish overlords.
When we first meet Zia she has discovered a whaler's boat washed ashore and she conceives a daring plan: with her younger brother as crew she will sail to rescue the aunt she has heard about and bring her back to the mainland. From the moment Zia and Mando set out we are under the spell that O'Dell creates so effectively. The mood is portentous, and the journey is not destined to end well….
Having failed in her first plan, Zia persuades the friendly...
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It would be easy for the reviewer to compare ["Zia"] to the earlier ["Island of the Blue Dolphins"] and bemoan the fact that sequels are risky. But the truth is that "Zia" is a completely fresh creation, rich in character and action. The ending of the story, in which Karana gives her niece the courage to leave the Mission and rediscover her tribal heritage, is both surprising and correct—as it always is in good fiction. Once again Scott O'Dell has used history as the mainspring for revealing the truth about human beings: their passion, their grief.
Barbara Wersba, in a review of "Zia," in The New York Times Book Review, May 2, 1976, p. 38.
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Ethel L. Heins
It is an act of bravery for an author, after so many years, to pick up and rework the threads of a story that has achieved such resounding success. But for Scott O'Dell, the return [in Zia] to the setting of Island of the Blue Dolphins means a return to his fundamental interest in early California history. Not a sequel in the strict sense, the story should be welcomed by young readers who, much more than adults, care passionately about a favorite character and long to know what happened afterwards…. The second book lacks the stark unity and the haunting beauty of the first, but comparison is unfair. Zia's story is not meant to duplicate Karana's; it is told with simplicity and occasional flashes of humor and has its own individuality. (pp. 291-92)
Ethel L. Heins, in a review of "Zia," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LII, No. 3, June, 1976, pp. 291-92.
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[In The 290, Scott O'Dell displays] his distinctive gifts for distilling significance from historical matter and for dealing with the sea. Jim Lynne, at sixteen an apprentice to a ship's architect for the 290 in Liverpool, immediately captures the reader's interest when in a pub on a "raving cold" November night he is approached by his ne'er-do-well, money-grubbing brother, who unsuccessfully seeks to buy information from him about the nearly finished vessel…. With lively conversation and with increasing tension from confrontations at sea and aboard Jim's ship, the author crisply tells the story, skillfully integrating historical elements…. (pp. 160-61)
Virginia Haviland, in a review of "The 290," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LIII, No. 2, April, 1977, pp. 160-61.
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[The title character of "Carlota"], trying for her father's sake to take the place of her dead brother Carlos, rides a stallion, brands cattle on their Southern California ranch, even takes part in one of the last battles of the Mexican War and, except for the battle, seems to relish her role….
I am impressed with the history … and with many of the scenes, but at the conclusion I cease to believe in the fiction…. When Scott O'Dell has Carlota free her grandmother's slave and loose her father's chained eagle, I suppose he is demonstrating what he believes are feminine feelings that Carlota has repressed. But there is no indication that Carlota or anyone else in her society is sensitive to the plight of slaves or chained eagles. Mr. O'Dell is stingy with Carlota; he expects her to redefine herself but gives her too little material and not enough time.
Jean Fritz "Six by Winners," in The New York Times Book Review, November 13, 1977, pp. 37. 63.∗
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Mary M. Burns
[The Battle of San Pascal] is the climax of [Carlota,] an economically told story which, in its delineation of a strong-minded, independent heroine, recalls the author's memorable Island of the Blue Dolphins. The spare, well-honed style is artistically suited to the first person narrative. Carlota de Zubarán—a fictional counterpart of Luisa de Montero who lived in Southern California during the early nineteenth century—indicates the changing political and social climate which caused the passing of a distinctive but insular culture caught between the territorial imperatives of the warring nations. Encouraged by her father to be as self-sufficient as the son he had lost, Carlota defies the conventions of ladylike behavior valued by her matriarchal grandmother and is the only member of the immediate family able to cope with catastrophe after the Spaniards's Pyrrhic victory. She can understand the pride which motivated her father and his friends to attack the gringos; she is also capable, after her father's death, of assessing her position and protecting her assets. The principal characters are realistically portrayed as unique individuals and as universal figures in an allegorical drama. Multi-dimensional, masterfully crafted, the novel is compelling in its powerful yet restrained emotional intensity.
Mary M. Burns, in a review of "Carlota," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LIII, No. 6,...
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The 290 seems set fair to be a roistering yarn about a young seaman aboard a Confederate raider. The foreword gives the clue to the disappointment of the book, however: the story is based very firmly on historical fact. As a result, the novel is almost a documentary, since one episode does not precipitate another in the patterned way we expect of narrative.
The painstaking research becomes a straitjacket. A sailor is taken on board, leads a mutiny and is dismissed, never to be seen again. It does not matter to a reader that this actually happened historically—he is left wondering what the point of the incident is in the story. The book would be thoroughly useful background reading in a history project on the American Civil War, but is a succession of anti-climaxes as a novel.
Geoff Fox, "Moments of Truth," in The Times Educational Supplement, No. 3269, February 3, 1978, p. 36.∗
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Early on [in Kathleen, Please Come Home] Kathleen, just 15, becomes engaged to a young wetback who warns her against the drugs friend Sybil is so free with. But Ramon is arrested and later killed in a raid, and when Kathleen realizes that it was her concerned, English-teacher mother who turned him in, she accepts Sybil's invitation to take off for Mexico … The two girls split when Kathleen learns that she's pregnant by Ramon, but get together again in time for an auto accident that is fatal to both Sybil and Kathleen's unborn baby. (That makes two too many convenient disasters, both of which free Kathleen from commitments.) The end sees Kathleen and Joy, another convalescent druggie, throwing away Sybil's valuable stash of heroin and heading into a straight future. O'Dell undoubtedly knows the scene better than many writers who would warn [young adults] on drugs, but still his social worker's presence can be felt at nearly every turn. Of course this sort of material has an enduring fascination for daydreaming stay-at-homes. (pp. 311-12)
A review of "Kathleen, Please Come Home," in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. XLVI, No. 6, March 15, 1978, pp. 311-12.
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"Kathleen, Please Come Home" is a sympathetic portrait of a 15-year-old from a happy middle-class home who runs away. Mr. O'Dell … can weave a suspenseful tale, and he has done so in his latest novel, which is in large part a young woman's diary.
Romantic and impressionable, Kathleen Winters falls in love with a 17-year-old Mexican illegal alien who, at first sight, reminded her of Don Quixote. Caught with fake identification papers, Ramón is deported. When he tries to return to the United States, he is killed at the border. Who betrayed him to the authorities in the first place? Discovering that it was her mother, Kathleen heads for Tijuana with her friend Sybil.
There is a moving section in the book in which Kathleen's mother, Sara, writes down in her diary her reactions after she realizes that her duaghter has run away. She finds it difficult to understand how her daughter could "continue to doubt that what I did was done only for her health, her happiness, all the days of her future." When Kathleen finally returns home months later, she finds her mother has sold her house and is "somewhere" in the East, following tips from the police as to the whereabouts of her daughter.
"Kathleen, Please Come Home" is unsettling in a number of ways. A fast-paced story chock-full of adventures and "colorful" characters, it seems to have all the trappings of a made-for-television movie. There are the...
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Daniel Flores Duran
O'Dell attempts a realistic portrayal of the Chicano culture in this fast-paced adventure story [Child of Fire]. He weaves together a fascinating tapestry of fact and fiction in this interpretation of Chicano culture: cock and bull fights, drugs, ghetto gangs, the farmworker's strikes…. The informed reader will find many of the elements of Chicano culture presented by O'Dell to be far off the mark, while others ring true. The teacher or librarian may wish to caution the reader against thinking that this picture of Chicano culture is complete. It is an exciting story unfortunately marred by some of the plot devices and stereotyped characterizations. (pp. 110-11)
Daniel Flores Duran, "Mexican American Resources: 'Child of Fire'," in Latino Materials: A Multimedia Guide for Children and Young Adults, edited by Daniel Flores Duran, Neal Schuman, Publishers, 1979, pp. 110-11.
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[The Captive is a] brilliant first volume in a projected sequence…. We leave Julian, arrayed as … [a] god, surveying his newly acquired domain—sickened by the human sacrifices being made in his honor, but stirred moments later by visions of empire. And O'Dell leaves readers impatient for further developments. It is a measure of his seriousness and his skill that the suspense focuses not on events, which have so far been swift and stunning, inevitable and unexpected, or on the artfully foreshadowed intrigue, confrontations, and dangers that are sure to follow, but on Julian's moral choices and on what he will make of his false, exalted position.
A review of "The Captive," in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. XLVIII, No. 2, January 15, 1980, p. 71.
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A Mayan Indian legend tells of the god Kukulcan, who, grieving over a misdeed, left earth promising to return centuries later in the body of a young man who has come from the east.
Scott O'Dell uses this legend in ["The Captive," the] first novel of a projected larger story called "City of the Seven Serpents." "The Captive" is narrated by Julian Escobar, a young, idealistic Jesuit seminarian in medieval Spain who travels to New Spain with an entrepreneur to carry the Christian gospel to the Mayans. Julian is quickly disillusioned by his sponsor's mercenary interests….
This is very similar to Mr. O'Dell's other matter-of-fact first-person narratives about North and South American Indian life. One can quibble here and there about plot devices (e.g., how Julian learns the Mayan language so quickly), but there's no better introduction to the rich and remote Mayan culture than through such a well-told tale. And there's more to come.
Jack Forman, in a review of "The Captive," in The New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1980, p. 33.
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Scott O'Dell is a much-honored author, a real general of children's literature who comes with as many medals as a prizewinning Swiss chocolate. Therefore he must be judged by the highest standards as one's expectations are keenly aroused. Alas, they are not fulfilled [with The Captive]. We all understand what is meant by a good bad book. It is a book that is thoroughly reprehensible and lacking in all the higher qualities of literature, such as moral values, philosophy, construction, character-drawing and general credibility, and yet contrives to be thoroughly readable…. Well, The Captive is what I can only describe as a bad good book. It is good inasmuch as it is well constructed, well researched, contains many interesting items of unfamiliar knowledge, and displays unimpeachable moral worth (Mr. O'Dell comes out very strongly aginst Slavery, Murder and Human Sacrifice; he doesn't hold with them for a moment!); but it is not very readable. It is inclined to be ponderous, and the prose style reminds one of a careful translation.
The story, told in the first person, is of Julián Escobar, a young seminarian who embarks with the conquistadors for the New World, where he witnesses the monstrous behavior of those who seek for gold. He is, naturally, horrified and repelled; and yet his own course proves to be not entirely beyond reproach. In his zeal to do good, Julian falls victim to the sin of spiritual pride and an apt...
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Writers may choose their subjects, but good writers have less to say about their themes, which are apt to rise, bidden or unbidden, from the raw material of their deepest preoccupations. Never does Scott O'Dell play better music than when he introduces what seems to be his favorite motif: the pull between the individual's need for solitude and the need for society….
After losing her father at the hands of the rebels and her brother at the hands of the King's men, Sarah Bishop, in fear of both parties, hides in a cave, gradually learning to take a fierce joy in her hard-won self-reliance. And when at the end of ["Sarah Bishop"] it is clear that Sarah will move back to town, the reader understands that Sarah is under no illusion that living with people will be easier than living alone.
Mr. O'Dell has always been a master at lighting up an era with details that seem to have been learned on the spot…. So this book is a vivid reflection of life in Revolutionary New York, and Scott O'Dell is obviously very much at home. First and foremost, however, this is the story of Sarah Bishop, a stouthearted heroine who, although caught in the conflicts of her own age, might have lived anywhere at any time.
Jean Fritz, in a review of "Sarah Bishop," in The New York Times Book Review, May 4, 1980, p. 26.
(The entire section is 234 words.)
Despite a series of highly dramatic incidents [in Sarah Bishop], the story line is basically sharp and clear; O'Dell's messages about the bitterness and folly of war, the dangers of superstition, and the courage of the human spirit are smoothly woven into the story, as are the telling details of period and place. To many readers, the primary appeal of the book may be the way in which Sarah, like the heroine of Island of the Blue Dolphins, like Robinson Crusoe, makes a comfortable life in the isolation of the wilderness.
Zena Sutherland, in a review of "Sarah Bishop," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Vol. 33, No. 10, June, 1980, p. 198.
(The entire section is 111 words.)
Francis X. Jordan
In The Feathered Serpent, Scott O'Dell … gives us the second installment of his chronicle set in old Mexico and dealing with the adventures of Julian Escobar, a young Spanish seminarian. In the sequence's first book, The Captive, Julian, after being cast away among the Maya, by chance assumed the role of their god, Kukulcan. The Feathered Serpent tells us of Julian's subsequent attempts to restore a Mayan city to its former splendor and gives us his eyewitness account of Hernán Cortés' momentous meeting with Moctezuma.
O'Dell skillfully avoids the double-barrelled problem confronting authors of multi-volumed chronicles. He manages to allude to The Captive in ways that will neither bore those who have read it nor alienate those who haven't. Furthermore, he concludes the present book at a natural pause in Escobar's life. When the novel ends, Julian is on the road back to his Mayan city after his near fatal encounter with Cortés.
Because the book deals with such moral ambiguities as Escobar's role in the Maya's human sacrifices … and because it contains scenes of violence perpetrated by both the Maya in these sacrifices and by the Spaniards in their encounters with the Indians, this fascinating book is recommended only for the more mature adolescent.
Francis X. Jordan, in a review of "The Feathered Serpent," in Best Sellers, Vol. 41, No....
(The entire section is 225 words.)
The one thing a novel about the Aztec is bound to have is exotica. What with tombs lined with gold, hearts torn palpitating from sacrificial victims, feather banners, temples and palaces, it is hard to imagine an Aztec book that is dull. And Scott O'Dell's ["The Feathered Serpent"] is not dull.
It is the second volume in a series concerning the adventures of young Spanish seminarian Julián Escobar…. In ["The Feathered Serpent"] he is coerced by the greedy and devious dwarf Cantú, a fellow Spaniard, into accepting the role of the much-anticipated Mayan messiah, the light-skinned god Kukulcán.
Not surprisingly, the impersonation proves both hazardous and onerous. The new god incurs the hostility of the powerful priest Chalco and makes a number of ill-advised decisions…. Eventually, Julián and Cantú set off from their Mayan backwater to visit the capital of the Aztec overlords, arriving in time for the confrontation between Cortés and Montezuma.
As a character, Julián has more insight than many conquistadors, actual and fictional…. At the same time, he displays odd vacancies of personality. He seems to have little emotional life, no real curiosity about an alien society and (strangest of all) an implausible lack of awareness of the opposite sex. The result is that, while the book is not dull, neither is it deep or gripping.
Georgess McHargue, in a...
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David N. Pauli
The heroine of The Spanish Smile, Lucinda de Cabrillo y Benvides, is the sheltered only daughter of the proud descendant of Spanish conquistadors, Don Enrique. Cloistered away in a gloomy castle, Lucinda is allowed no radio, television, newspapers or even any book written in the 20th Century. Her father pursues a deranged dream of restoring Spanish rule to California. All of the gothic machinery is in place in this story: the castle with its mysterious crypt guarded by deadly serpents, the young girl in distress and the charming young man who comes to her aid; and O'Dell's fluid style moves it along crisply.
Readers who are put off by a plethora of literary and historical references may get bogged down in a few spots. There are times also when credulity is stretched almost to the breaking point, even for a gothic. In spite of overwhelming evidence, it takes two thirds of the book for Lucinda to realize the depth of her father's madness and to begin to assert herself. Still, O'Dell has written a story that is several cuts above others in the genre.
David N. Pauli, in a review of "The Spanish Smile," in School Library Journal, Vol. 29, No. 2, October, 1982, p. 163.
(The entire section is 202 words.)
Readers looking for pure escapism will find an ample portion of it in this novel about a young girl growing into adulthood [The Spanish Smile]. Award-winning novelist Scott O'Dell has not created an ordinary young girl as heroine of the latest of his impressive (Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sarah Bishop) children's books….
The novel features a wide diversity of characters, some innocent and admirable, others entirely corrupted. This diversity adds interest and color to this exotic story. Although improbable and unrealistic, this book will provide enjoyable, though largely frivolous, reading.
Margaret Parente, in a review of "The Spanish Smile," in Best Sellers, Vol. 42, No. 9, December, 1982, p. 366.
(The entire section is 107 words.)
[The Amethyst Ring] concludes O'Dell's dazzling drama of the temptation, fall, and redemption of Julian Escobar, the 16th-century Spanish seminarian who came in The Captive to rule a New World island as the Mayan god Kukulcan. Having witnessed the fall of Moctezuma in The Feathered Serpent, Julian returns to prepare the defense of his own island against the inevitable coming of Cortes. But Julian's dwarf companion deserts him with their ship filled with Aztec gold; the island falls to Cortes without a struggle; and Julian, escaping, becomes a solitary wanderer, wearing the amethyst ring of a captured Spanish bishop Julian had allowed his Mayan priest to kill after the bishop refused to ordain Julian. He stays in a nearby village until the gold-hungry Spanish come and kill its friendly cacique…. Always dodging Cortes, he ends up with Pisarro's army, sickened by their massacre of the Inca and falling hopelessly in love with the Inca king's daughter. By then Julian has come to sympathize wholly with the Indian victims against the Spanish conquerors and their priests, but he never gives up his Spanish religion. Dispirited, he returns to Spain to find the dwarf ensconced as the Marquis of Santa Cruz and the Seven Cities…. Julian gives up both his dream of priesthood and his share of the dwarf's gold to join a lay order, the Brothers of the Poor—a weary renunciation that could come only after the once-untried idealist had won and...
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In completing the trilogy which began with The Captive and The Feathered Serpent,… [in The Amethyst Ring] the author has carried to a logical conclusion the adventures and experiences of Julián Escobar…. A historical novel in the sense that the splendors and the horrors of the ancient Indian cultures of America are understandingly portrayed, the narrative related by the unhappy, unheroic protagonist is not merely an account of random adventures. The author has eschewed the grand scale and the melodramatic in his telling but has been both sensitive and objectively perceptive of the memorable moments that reveal the depths of human experience….
Paul Heins, in a review of "The Amethyst Ring," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LIX, No. 3, June, 1983, p. 315.
(The entire section is 122 words.)
The Castle in the Sea is on an island off the coast of California. The time is the present. The heroine, Lucinda de Cabrillo y Benivides, has just become one of the richest young women in the world due to the horrible death of her father. However, she must deal with the legacy of madness her father left behind before she can begin to deal with her great wealth…. Lucinda's "novio" arrives, a young man whom she has never met yet to whom she has been promised since her childhood. Next a doctor is engaged to help Lucinda with her melancholia, then a woman is employed to be her constant companion. And last of all, her ever present guardian, Ricardo Villaverde, who seems even more mad then her dead father, watches over her. Lucinda must decide who among them is her friend and who seeks to harm her, for clearly someone is out to destroy her. O'Dell has created a romantic suspense novel that painlessly incorporates bits of Spanish history. [Young adult] fans of the genre will enjoy this one. (pp. 95-6)
Evelyn Walker, in a review of "The Castle in the Sea," in School Library Journal, Vol. 30, No. 3, November, 1983, pp. 95-6.
(The entire section is 202 words.)