The idea of a youth making survival in the wild world, animals as their companions, has always intrigued me. I loved My Side of the Mountain, and I’m still hoping to read Call it Courage. I appreciated reading about Karana’s resourcefulness and observations. She makes bows and arrows and hunts for devilfish; she tames wild dogs and birds; she watches the sea creatures as they fight and play. Karana is well adapted to her island life. I got the sense that she was like the island’s few scraggly plants- a little worse for wear, but firmly rooted to her rocky home.
‘When there were people in Ghalas-at I was always up before the sun and busy with many things. But now that there was little to do I did not leave the rock until the sun was high. I would eat and then go to the spring and take a bath in the warm water. Afterwards I went down to the shore where I could gather a few abalones and sometimes spear a fish for my supper. Before darkness fell I climbed onto the rock and watched the sea until it slowly disappeared in the night.’
Perhaps that was the main key to Karana’s survival. Island of the Blue Dolphins is not a gentle story. Karana suffers huge losses. Although she does mourn, I often wondered why these losses didn’t weigh on her mind more. But Karana rebounds from these hard blows, and even makes peace with a few of her enemies. She is hardy, and yet I didn’t quite feel as if I were reading about a young girl freshly deprived of friends and family.
“With the young birds and the old ones, the white gull and Rontu (the dog), who was always trotting at my heels, the yard seemed a happy place. If only I had not remembered Tutok. If only I had not wondered about my sister Ulape, where she was, and if the marks she had drawn upon her cheeks had proved magical.”
The writing is simple, but poetic- a fitting prose for the setting, I thought. Descriptions are vivid and expressive, without being long winded and flowery. Even though I thought Karana was unusually mild in her pain, it really was part of the writing style. She gets out her grief in a paragraph or so, and then moves on. The laments, though brief, are on target without spelling out Karana’s feelings word by word.
“It was a morning of thick fog and the sound of far-off waves breaking on the shore. I had never noticed before how silent the village was. Fog crept in and out of the empty huts. It made shapes as it drifted and they reminded me of all the people who were dead and those who were gone. The noise of the surf seemed to be their voices speaking.’
I suppose that’s exactly what I should have expected from a sparse Californian Island. Yes, it’s beautiful, simple, and quiet- but not without an unsettling loneliness throughout.