The Island of the Blue Dolphins is, I’m pretty sure, the first novel I read multiple times as a child. I really wanted to be Karana, braving the elements and invaders on her isolated island. I guess there was something about her bravery, her competence, and her alone-ness that spoke to the young introvert in me. I could very easily put myself in her place as a person who might thrive in that situation, certainly emotionally, even if some of the survival skills might not have been so easily learned. From the perspective of myself as an adult now, I think I might even have been pretty solid on those, as well. I was nothing if not a competent child. It was also appealing to me as a girl that Karana had to take on traditionally male roles that were forbidden to her as a female in order to survive.
What strikes me more as an adult rereading it as a favorite novel is the racism and injustice of the relocating of native peoples and the loss of indigenous culture as white invaders began to take over traditional native lands. I can safely say that’s a piece that escaped me entirely when I was a kid. Which is okay, because I think it’s a mark of a well-written book (It’s the 1961 Newbery Medal book) that layers of meaning emerge upon multiple readings. I think Young Adult novels are unfairly underestimated in that regard, and The Island of the Blue Dolphins is a prime example of that.
What I’m left wondering is how the tale of Juana Maria, a real-life Native American young woman left alone for eighteen years on San Nicolas Island in the 1800s, might be told by a Native author today. Somebody should get on that ASAP.