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.
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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