Twice Read, Nonce Enjoyed: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. 1960.

Interesting opening, full of subtle tension. But what is the narrator dying from want of? What’s the promise of the first page? (Hahaha!) Ok, she obviously wants peace for her people and the reader suspects that the visitors will bring calamity (which they do).

The writing is not especially engaging. It rather gets out of the way quickly so the strong plot can take over, though I can’t figure out why the wild dogs only killed Ramo and didn’t eat him.

O’Dell faces the same problem that Tom Hanks faced—how to make scenes interesting and “quick” when there’s only one person? Hanks, in whatever movie that was, turns a volleyball into a god, but O’Dell tries to tap into the cultural rather than survivalist part of the story (unlike say, My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, others). I bet a formula could be made for these books, something like step 1: isolate the protagonist (plane crash, wild dogs, running away, etc.), step 2: make weapons! Cool!, step 3: give the protagonist something really big to hunt and some wild animal intent on hunting them, step 4: every isolated survivalist needs a volleyball/pet ... and so on.

And in the end, what leads our young protagonist to let down her guard and engage the stranger (the stranger: step 11)? Female vanity. Ah, to be a man writing about women in 1960! She succumbs to a compliment about her skirt, then to a necklace.

Details are rich like Little House and others, and this gives a fascinating glimpse into history and life from an unusual perspective, but I didn’t find the survival story any more compelling now than I did when I read the book (laboriously) in 6th grade. Not my favorite by far.