Retro Friday: The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Retro Friday: The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’DellIsland of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2010-02-08
Genres: Action & Adventure, Girls & Women, Historical, Native American, People & Places, Survival Stories, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 192
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon

Far off the coast of California looms a harsh rock known as the island of San Nicholas. Dolphins flash in the blue waters around it, sea otter play in the vast kep beds, and sea elephants loll on the stony beaches. Here, in the early 1800s, according to history, an Indian girl spent eighteen years alone, and this beautifully written novel is her story. It is a romantic adventure filled with drama and heartache, for not only was mere subsistence on so desolate a spot a near miracle, but Karana had to contend with the ferocious pack of wild dogs that had killed her younger brother, constantly guard against the Aleutian sea otter hunters, and maintain a precarious food supply. More than this, it is an adventure of the spirit that will haunt the reader long after the book has been put down. Karana's quiet courage, her Indian self-reliance and acceptance of fate, transform what to many would have been a devastating ordeal into an uplifting experience. From loneliness and terror come strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic. In celebration of the book's 50th anniversary, this edition has a stunning new look, and an introduction by Lois Lowry, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Giver and Number the Stars.

Retro Friday is a meme hosted by Angieville. Basically the premise is that you review a retro book on Friday.

As this is my first time participating in Retro Friday, I thought I would review a novel near and dear to the hearts of everyone except for me. Honestly, I sort of feel like the kid picked last in dodgeball or someone who still has myspace because it seems like everyone has read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell except me. I won’t lie, I am a bit sad about never having read this book, since even my boyfriend has read it! (Well, that’s not that big of a deal since he is a reader…) I found that I rather enjoyed Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Honestly, if this book was not so full of melancholy moments, it would be full of unintentional LOLs. You see, this book is all about a girl who is left alone on an island after the entire population evacuates. This is because her dumbass brother stays on the island because he left his arrows or spears there. So, instead of leaving the kid there to fend for himself, Karana jumps off the ship and goes back to the island. THEN her brother gets eaten by a pack of wild dogs. I am not making this shit up. Me, being me, was tempted to laugh. However, I didn’t laugh because Karana proves herself to be a bad ass of the highest order and she would probably knock me out with a whale bone or call her otter friend to jump me if I started laughing. Girl is Robinson Cruesoe 2.0. For real, she makes a house and tames animals and learns how to do cool things like hunt.

What I like is how we see Karana go from being this traditional girl who can’t hunt because of the bad luck to being someone who steps outside her norms. She discards her island notions of femininity and says, just because I am a girl doesn’t mean I can’t hunt down the wild dogs who ate my brother, and make one of them my pet. But, while she’s off making houses and fences, she also makes a beautiful skirt out of cormorant feathers (WTF is a cormorant?!). I see that as showing that you can have both traditionally masculine attributes and traditionally feminine attributes and still be awesome.

Yet, despite the survivor feel, this book is tinged, as I mentioned before, with sadness. First, there’s a dog, and we all know what happens to dogs in books. No denial. Plus she leads a lonely life. I mean, good God, she has no one to make out with. PLUS facebook was not invented then, so she couldn’t just friend request her tribe. ALSO, SPOILER, at the end she finds out everyone who left on the ship died because the ship sank. <– Highlight to read.

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a lightening quick read. It is not terribly in-depth as far as emotions go. However, I am glad I read it, so finally I can fit in at the cool kids table. ALSO, I think I would have enjoyed this if there were more blue dolphins.

Some quotes I dug:

“As I lay there I wondered what would happen to me if I went against the law of our tribe which forbade the making of weapons by women — if I did not think of it at all and made those things which I must have to protect myself.

Would the four winds blow in from the four directions of the world and smother me as I made the weapons?” pg. 61

“He walked to the top of the mound and lifted his head and gave a long howl. I had never heard this sound before. It was the sound of many things that I did not understand.” pg. 117-118

Other Reviews:

A Literary Odyssey

A Rhapsody In Books

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I haven’t read this book in AGES but I think I have a copy somewhere and I definitely need to reread it to see if I still feel the same way about it now as I did back in elementary school when I first read it (scared, excited, intrigued, somewhat confused about what the hell was going on. I’m assuming that last one will be gone as I now have MATURED AS AN ADULT aka I’ve read lots more books since then).

    I think there was a sequel, too?

  2. +JMJ+

    This is one of the books I grew up with–and that is the cover my copy has! (I’m so glad, as it’s my favourite of the designs.) Thank goodness Scott O’Dell won the Newbery Award for it, or else it might have gone out of print like his other books have. =( I’ve loved everything he has written (with varying degrees of “like” admittedly; but those which didn’t win awards are incredibly hard to find now.

    I really should reread this novel soon. I’m 100% positive I’ll fall in love with it all over again. Thanks a lot for featuring it, April. =)

    • Yep, that’s my cover too!

      I was not aware his other books were out of print. That’s so sad, especially when a kid falls in love with Island of the Blue Dolphins then goes to seek out his other books and finds that they can’t get them.

  3. I haven’t read this book in ages but I went through a HUGE Scott O’Dell phase back in the day. I think THE SERPENT NEVER SLEEPS was my favorite. That and THE ROAD TO DAMIETTA. Great choice!

  4. Awwww I really liked this back in the day too 🙂 Great review.

  5. They gave this to me to read way too early in school so I didn’t understand it anywhere near enough. I really want to go back some time and read it now, but I’m afraid as an adult the window has passed. I wish they’d given it to me just a year or two later in school!


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