Deep in the Pacific Ocean, there is a small island called St. Nicholas Island. This island once held generations of Indians who survived on fish, birds, abalones, and other natural resources. Scott O’dell pulls from a historical figure who was brought off the island after living there alone for almost two decades. In the epilogue, O’Dell tells the reader that most of the story is fictional, based on the few pieces of information that he could gather about the woman of St. Nicholas Island.
Karana is a young girl who is the daughter of the Chief. Some Aleuts come to their island, seeking to hunt the otters surrounding the island. When the Aleuts try to leave, their Russian leader refuses to pay Karana’s people for using the waters around their island, as well as the safety of the bay. There is a battle, and many are killed. A white man’s ship comes to the island soon after, and the tribe decides to leave with them, since their numbers are so few from the recent battle. Karana discovers, however, that her younger brother never boarded the ship, and she jumps over the side, and swims back to the island to be with her brother. Later on, the brother is killed by wild dogs, leaving Karana to fend for herself. Most of the book follows this young Robinson Crusoe as she survives on the island. She survives a tidal wave, an earthquake, foreign strangers to her land, wild dogs, all by her own wits and imagination. The book ends with her leaving the island that she loves on a missionary ship to find her people.
This book fascinated me, as I have always had an interest in Native American history. The narrative reads as if someone unfamiliar with the English language is dictating to the writer. While the style seems a bit broken, it only adds to the realism of the story. While most of the story is from the imagination of the writer, the reader feels like he is walking and struggling with the character, and learns that change is not always bad, and that one must be willing to face the future, whatever it may hold, with purpose and determination.