The Original Katniss Everdeen: ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’ by Scott O’Dell

What is it about living off the land that’s attractive to so many kids? Now we have The Hunger Games and other bleak books, but when I was a kid, everybody was all about the classic survival books, like My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves. Did the idea of hunting and gathering present an interesting juxtaposition to our lives full of Lunchables and Dunkaroos? I don’t know, but despite my meager survival skills, I still kind of thought I would rock at making arrowheads and identifying non-poisonous plants.

Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins totally indulged this misguided fantasy of mine. First off, bonus points for that title. I don’t know how Scott O’Dell predicted when he wrote this book back in the 60’s that dolphins would be every girl’s jam in the 90’s. They were on stickers, on the wallpaper of one of my friend’s bedrooms, and (of course) all over Lisa Frank merchandise. Basically, the 90’s were all about dolphins and Jonathan Taylor Thomas (the latter of whom, unfortunately, does not make an appearance in this book).

Anyway, we’ll come back to the dolphins soon. If you don’t remember the plot or, horror of horrors, you never read Island of the Blue Dolphins, allow me to describe it for you. Karana lives on the island with her people—that is, until an attack and a run of bad luck make them decide to leave the island for a new country. It’s not until Karana is on the boat and it’s pulling away from the shore that she realizes her little brother, Ramo, got left behind, like some sort of island version of Home Alone. Naturally, Karana jumps off the boat and swims back to shore. As a big sister myself, I can say that I would jump off any boat, anytime, anywhere if one of my brothers was stuck on an island (but let’s all hope and pray that I won’t ever have to prove this).

Karana and Ramo are all set to hang out on the island until the boat comes back to get them, but then Ramo is attacked and killed by a pack of wild dogs about 5 seconds later. So Karana is stuck on her island alone, and guess what? It doesn’t look like that boat’s ever coming back!

Then the book turns into what I like to refer to as “survival porn.” I’m pretty sure all the doomsday preppers that exist today would totally love the majority of Island of the Blue Dolphins. Karana finds food, hunts, builds shelters, makes canoes and, eventually, befriends just about every animal on the island. Even though she initially vows bloody revenge against the wild dogs, she ends up taming one and turning him into her pet.

By the time someone finally shows up to take Karana away from the island (you know, after she’s lived in almost complete solitude for years), she’s all too ready for human companionship. Still,it’s a little sad to see her leave her home. If you need to know more about Karana, Scott O’Dell wrote a sequel called Zia .

Some Highlights:

-If you like your YA with strong female characters, this is the book for you. Karana is one tough broad who has survival skills Katniss Everdeen would kill for (seriously, Karana doesn’t get sponsors who drop medicine or other supplies from the sky). Karana breaks her culture’s rules for women (like the one that says women should never make weapons) and does whatever it takes to survive. Also she makes lights out of dead fish, which I still don’t entirely understand.

-I’m pretty sure that if Karana were around today, she’d be a full-fledged PETA member, or at least a vegan. Even though she starts out hunting to get food, when she eventually befriends every animal on the island (wild dogs, otters, foxes, birds, and, yes, dolphins!), she just wants to hang out with them instead of kill them.

-A movie version of Island of the Blue Dolphins exists! I’ve never seen it, but you can watch it in full on Youtube if you decide to go on a crazy Island of the Blue Dolphins bender this weekend (no judgment here).

-The cover I chose for this post is the one I remember from childhood, but all of the covers are gorgeous. You can take a look at them here.

What about you guys? Have you read Island of the Blue Dolphins? Did you also have fantasies of living off the land? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, if there are any books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education, let me know in the comments, email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

Image via Open Library

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