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Legacy of the Blue Dolphins: The Story of the Lone Woman

In 1835, a Spanish ship sailed to the island of San Nicolas, off the coast of California. Their purpose was to collect the remains of the devastated population of the Nicolenos, a native tribe of Uto-Aztecan people. The ship took them all away, except for one woman. After being left behind, the woman lived by herself on the island for eighteen years, until she was found by fishermen. She went with them to the Santa Barbara mission. No one knew her language, so she could not tell anyone her story. Just seven weeks after she was brought to California, she fell ill and died. To this day, her story is shrouded in mystery. Scott O’Dell knew as much about her as everyone else did, which wasn’t much. But he still found it fit to write a story in her honor. That story is the Newberry Medal winning book, Island of the Blue Dolphins.

After a massacre devastates the people of Ghalas-at, twelve year old Karana is preparing to go with the remnants of her village in a great ship. But as the ship is pulling out to sea, Karana realizes that her little brother was left behind, and dives overboard to swim back to him. Unable to stay ashore thanks to a storm, the ship sails away, leaving the two children behind. While waiting for the ship to come back for them, Karana’s brother is killed, leaving her all alone on the island. With no other options, Karana must learn to survive on her own. As the weeks turn into months and the months into years, Karana waits for the ship to come back for her. But the longer she waits, the more her hope begins to fade. Will she stay on the island and remain alone? Or will she risk the journey to a faraway land, and follow her people?

Obviously, Scott O’Dell had to guess when he wrote about Karana’s life on the island, the culture of her people, and the thoughts going through her mind. After all, no one could speak her language. Some take issue with the creative liberties he took, but for the purpose of the story, I think it adds to the story of the book. He aged down the Lone Woman in the story to age twelve, as opposed to her real life counterpart being in her twenties when she was left behind. He did this to make Karana a more relatable character for his young audience, and it worked perfectly. Seeing her journey from a scared little girl to a confident, self assured woman who knows exactly how to survive and thrive is a compelling character arc. It can be extremely difficult to write a book with very little dialogue. O'Dell not only accomplishes this, but he absolutely soars in Karana’s narrative. That is where the true power of this book lies — with Karana’s inner thoughts, and with how well we are immersed into the island she calls home. Whenever Karana's strength and prowess grows, so does her spirit and courage, making this book a perfect coming-of-age story for children. Karana’s inner voice is short and to the point, with just the right touch of humor. I try not to throw around “perfect” too much, but Karana to me is a rare case of the perfect protagonist. The story stays with her for the entire book, but I never got tired of her and the long hours of work she endures to make the island her own.

The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island was long thought to be a strange mystery. There are differing sources on why exactly the Lone Woman stayed behind. Many sources, however, state that she stayed behind because of her son, who was killed on the island. That is where O’Dell got the idea for Karana’s little brother. Even though no one could understand her and no one knows what she was thinking on the island, accounts from the Santa Barbara mission describe her as an uncommonly happy woman. She would often break into one of her native songs, not caring a button about where she was or who was listening. Hearing this made me smile. It was only fitting, I thought, that one so determined to survive, so assured and content with herself, and happily facing the unfamiliar world she was tossed into should get a tribute as wonderful as Island of the Blue Dolphins. 5/5 stars. Though her untimely death is horribly tragic, I am glad that we know of her, and glad that O’Dell wrote a powerful story about her. I highly recommend giving this book to your child, or anyone else who has not read this incredibly written story of survival, growing up, and finding your own happiness.

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