Patron Book Review: ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’

Allyson Krehbiel contributed this patron book review. Thank you Allyson!

When I saw March’s reading challenge to re-read a book that you read in school, I  immediately knew what book I had to read again. In 6th grade, I was assigned to read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. Initially, I remembered being hopeful. The cover was pretty and I liked dolphins. My reading teacher said she reads it every year, and it was one of her favorite books.

Cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Being an obedient student I read it, but I hated it. Like, I REALLY hated it. I remember having the sort of passionate hatred for this book that only pre-teen angst can hold. I did not understand how my teacher could want to read this book every year.

This dislike stayed with me for years. People would mention the book, and I would scoff with disgust. When I signed up for Goodreads some ten years later, I rated this book a 1 star out of 5 stars, the lowest possible rating. Although, I quickly learned that my feelings were in the minority.  This was a beloved book, a Newbery winner even. What was I missing? 

When I sat down to give Island of the Blue Dolphins another shot, I made a few observations. Outside of the general premise, I remembered almost nothing from this book. In my defense, it has been 20 years since I first read it. But I did not even remember any of the characters or that it was based on a true story. This helped me go into the book with new eyes.

Thinking about why 12-year-old me would have not liked this book, I thought of books that I liked around that time. I remember loving Anne of Green Gables, Bridge to Terabithia, and Shiloh, and adoring books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary.  These books were full of emotion and had rich character development, which are still qualities of books I am attracted to now.

In my second reading of Island of the Blue Dolphins, I noticed that the story lacked emotion and was pretty matter-of-fact. Sad things would just happen. For instance, when Karana’s dog died, there was little reaction; the story just moved on. We also did not really get to know Karana, the main character. Twelve-year-old me would have wanted to know more about her and her inner thoughts and feelings. 

That all being said, I do see now why this book is loved by so many. It is a unique story of survival and strength. Karana has many amazing girl-power moments. The writing is beautifully descriptive when describing the land and nature. O’Dell paints a clear picture of the island.  

I am glad I gave this book another chance. Hopefully, when this book is mentioned, I no longer hold those strong negative feelings.  It may not have become an all-time favorite, but I did change my rating on Goodreads to 3 stars (liked it). What books do you need to give another chance?

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell is available as an e-book or e-audiobook in the Sunflower eLibrary (via the Libby or Overdrive app). A sequel, Zia, is available on Hoopla. Click here for more information; or email for assistance in accessing ebooks and e-audiobooks.

Would you like to share what you’re reading? Email your review to Dan and Stefanie posted a video with more information.