Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

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Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 9.00.30 PM Ever since I saw the article about the possible discovery of the cave where the “Lone Woman of San Nicolas” lived, I’ve been obsessing about Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – a fictionalized retelling of her story. I read it in fourth grade, and I can very clearly remember being crushed to discover that it was based on fact. Not crushed disappointed, but crushed heartbroken for the main character – that this had really happened to someone. Such was my sheltered life as a middle-class American fourth grader who’d never experienced anything more traumatic than flushing a goldfish or two, I suppose. Her story stayed with me all these years, and still touches a cord.

Island of the Blue Dolphins is set in the 1800’s and tells of Karana, a girl who spends year after year on an island after a ship carries away the few remaining members of her tribe – a tribe that had been decimated by battles with sea otter hunters. She is left behind with her brother, but not long after the ship leaves, he is killed by a pack of feral dogs, and Karana is alone. The years go by as she awaits for another ship to come and take her away, but although she is alone, she is not helpless. She builds a home using whale bones, and makes canoes and clothing and weapons, keeping caches of them all around the island. She also exacts revenge upon the dogs that killed her brother, until one day she finds one she has wounded and nurses him back to health. He becomes her constant companion and best friend. When he dies, she begins to yearn for the company of other people, and finally, long years after being left behind, is rescued.Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 8.59.16 PM

Real accounts of her life on the island vary, with some saying she jumped overboard when she realized her brother (or possibly her baby) had been left behind, and other accounts say that only she herself was left behind. But no one disputes that she was left alone on the island for eighteen long years, where she lived, thrived and waited.

Only seven weeks after she was found and taken to a Mission in California, the real life Karana died. Although by all accounts she was happy to leave the island, it begs the question: what would the rest of her life been like had she stayed?

Do you have any favorite books that were based on a True Story?

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2 Responses

  1. I just re-read this book myself and I am very interested in hearing whether this cave turns out to be the actual cave the lone/lost woman lived in. It seems there is a very good chance it might be.

    I’m confused about what age Karana was during the telling of this book. One news account said she appeared to be around 50 years old when she was found, but I thought the book was telling the story of a younger girl. Maybe she just looked older than her actual age since she had lived a difficult life on her own?

    Also, how did this author do such a brilliant job of writing a story that seems to give such a plausable account of how Karana may have lived? I wonder if he visited this isand when writing the book? I also wonder what caused him to write the story. Did he stumble upon an old news piece and become obsessed with this woman’s story?

    How very ironic that she lived approximately 18 years alone on an island and seemed to thrive, yet she died only 7 weeks after her rescue and relocation to a life of comparative liesure Such a bizarre and interesting story!

  2. I do think Scott O’Dell took some liberties with the story, including perhaps aging her down, since so little is known of the real Karana. He tells a little bit about his inspiration for writing her story here:, but otherwise, it doesn’t sound like he actually visited her island.

    According to O’Dell’s version, Karana was ready to be rescued, and welcomed it, and from all accounts, the real Lone Woman of San Nicolas was also pleased to be rescued, although had she known what would happen, I wonder what her choice would have been. Maybe it would have been worth it to her?

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