Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

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When I was a kid I had this fantasy that I would get stranded on an island. I would have to scavenge for my food and build a shelter and find fresh water. Sometimes this fantasy would expand to include my family or maybe a boy I liked. But I craved an empty island on which to disappear. I lived for movies like Cast Away and for books like Island of the Blue Dolphins. And when I first saw Man Vs Wild I had a huge crush on Bear Grylls even when he had to drink his own pee. As I got older my fantasy switched to a zombie apocalypse because it allowed me the same isolation, but I could sleep in a bed, read books, and steal things without being arrested.

It was my love for this isolation that led me to read The Island of the Blue Dolphins so many times growing up. It’s the first true gift I can remember my brother ever getting for me. Sure, he stole it from the school library and my now grown up librarian heart is hurt by this, but for years it was one of my prized possessions. I read it four times the first year I had it. As an adult my library was incomplete without it on the shelf, but this time I bought it.

Fast forward a decade and a half and I decided to reread it. Partly for comfort, partly to reread the details of a story I know by heart, and partly to see what the heck I loved so much. Each of these was fulfilled but not as much as I expected. I was comforted and I could see why young me liked it so much, but adult me was much less naïve. Young me took O’Dell’s suppositions at face value while adult me wanted to see the sources. Young me accepted the telling rather than showing that happens in the beginning while adult me wanted to know Karana’s feelings and deeper thoughts than “I was scared.” Young me thought “ooh there’s a lot of action” while adult me thought “this is a bit disjointed.”

I didn’t hate this book, and I’m very glad I got so much enjoyment out of it as a kid. I’ve read so many books since I first discovered this so I know that contributed to my lackluster feelings this time around.

It still had so many wonderful things. I felt the calm and the excitement I used to feel when I was young and needed to escape. I felt the enjoyment Karana had as she built her home and made her animal friends. I can’t imagine being as brave as her with the wild dogs. I still tend to imagine myself building a shelter half as good as hers.

I would recommend this book for readers of historical fiction and simply-phrased classics. And for lovers of deserted islands and survival stories.

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