Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

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What happens in Island of the Blue Dolphins?

Scott O'Dell based the book on the true story of Juana Maria, a Nicoleño Native American who lived alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years. The main character of the novel, Karena, was born in the village of Ghalas-at. Her people are hunters and gatherers, and they live in a small, close-knit community.

  • One day, the Aleuts come to the island to hunt otter. They make a deal with the village Chief, but refuse to honor it. When the villagers attack, the Aleuts decimate the population. A new chief is elected, and he sets out in a canoe to find new land for the tribe. He sends a boat to fetch the villagers. Karena boards the boat, but is forced to jump off when her brother Ramo is left behind.
  • Karena and Ramo wait for the boat to return. When Ramo is killed by a pack of feral dogs, Karena is forced to fend for herself. She hunts for food, makes spears, and builds a canoe. She vows to kill the wolves, but decides to tame their leader instead. She names him Rontu, meaning Fox Eyes.
  • Karena hides in a well-stocked cave when the Aleuts return to the island. She makes a friend of the girl who serves the Aleuts and is sad to see her go. Many years later, a boat comes to the island. Instead of hiding, Karena dons her finest cormorant feather dress and greets her rescuers. They take her to the mission is Santa Barbara, California, where she starts a new life.

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Island of the Blue Dolphins appeals to readers in several ways. It is a story based on actual events, a kind of adventure that makes people ask themselves how they would have behaved in similar circumstances. Narrated in the first person, the book reads more like a realistic account than a work of fiction. Rich with history and information about plant and animal life, the novel is also full of ingenious ideas for survival and for entertainment in isolation. The work's most endearing qualities are its sense of humor and its humaneness.

Page after page, O'Dell offers imaginative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. Although the story takes place over a century ago, Island of the Blue Dolphins has a timeless appeal because of the author's artistry in communicating his love for the sea.