It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book or since I have seen the movie. There is a movie; I remember watching it.
This book is about Karana. She lives with her tribe on a small island. There they live peacefully, for the most part. On occasion, foreign people come to hunt sea otters on the island for their pelts. They stay for a while. Some may honor their deal, while others do not. One group comes, which includes Russians, these men do not honor their agreement. An argument breaks out on the beach and most of the tribe’s men end up dead. One man goes away to seek another place for the people to live. Eventually, a ship does come back and it says that all will be taken to another place. Karana is ready to get on the boat, when she spots something. That something is her little brother. He’s still on the island. They don’t want to wait for her brother, so she jumps off and swims back to him. They say they will come back for her.
The first day things go alright for Karana and her brother, but the next day a pack of wild dogs kills him. Karana is alone. Karana thinks she will only have to wait a while for a ship to come back for her. She finds food as best she can. It soon becomes apparent that she will spend many months on the island. Karana makes weapons, which are forbidden for women to make, but she does it anyway. She seeks to kill the pack of wild dogs. She kills several of them, but wants the leader dog, a big gray dog with yellow eyes.
Karana makes herself a house with a fence. She stays there at nights. She stocks up food. She tried to leave the island once in a canoe, but the canoe leaked and she barely made it back. Karana uses the teeth of a dead seal to make her spear. She finally gets the big gray wild dog, but she doesn’t kill him. She takes him into her house and doctors him. The dog heals and Karana comes to think of the dog as her companion. She names him Rontu.
Months pass. Years pass. Karana is alone. For a short period of time another girl is on the island with some trappers, but she leaves and Karana does not go with her. Karana makes friends with sea otters, birds, and even a fox. The wildlife on the island becomes her companions. There she stays year after year. One day she sees a ship. Years have passed. Rontu is dead, she has tamed one of his sons to be her next companion. Karana puts on her cormorant skirt, her abalone earrings, and waits for the ship with Rontu-aru. It has been eighteen years. She learns the ship that took her tribe away sank before getting to any place. Karana is the last of her tribe.
What I liked
Karana is tough and resourceful. I really like that. I like how she was able to live out in the seeming wild on her own. She knew how to get food and how to make weapons. She didn’t let lack of experience keep her from staying alive. She went on even when she was alone.
Karana is a Native American and I like stories about Native Americans. It’s so neat to learn about past traditions and learn about traditions that are threatened with extinction. As I’ve mentioned before, my family is interracial; I look pretty white, but I’m not all the way white. My family is part Cherokee. We don’t hold any of the traditions of the Cherokee, but it’s neat to learn about traditions of the Cherokee tribe and other Native American tribes. It’s really neat to learn how they used to live off of the land with seemingly little impact on the nature that surrounded them.
What I didn’t like
This book is based on a true story, loosely, but it’s still based on a true story. Karana, well, her name probably wasn’t Karana, but a woman did exist who had lived alone on an island called San Nicholas Island for eighteen years. She was found with a dog and a dress of cormorant feathers. She was the last of her kind apparently. Nobody could understand her language and they never got much out of her. She died not long after leaving the island.
I think that’s really sad. She was the only person on an island for eighteen years. People had tried to rescue her, but due to lack of funding and various other issues it took a long time to get to Karana, well, Juana Maria. She was baptized as Juana Maria by a priest; her real name may have never been known.
Archaeologists, did find the remains of her hut and some of the tools she used, but all of it was lost in one of the Earthquakes of San Francisco. Her cormorant skirt also seems to have been lost. Nobody could ever figure out her language. Even peoples of nearby islands did not speak the same language as Juana Maria. I say she died soon after leaving the island, it was only seven weeks and she was buried in an unmarked grave.
The whole thing is just so sad. She was alone. She had a dog and that’s it. Then she finally got off the island and she died. Nobody could understand her. Loneliness is one of the things that really gets to me. I can’t imagine living alone for eighteen years like that. Sure, a person could be single and live alone, but you would interact with people when you went to the store or went to work. Juana Maria didn’t have anybody. I can imagine she was quite excited to see people again, but it’s just so sad that she died not long after returning to civilization.
Why does she have to have an unmarked grave? At least if she had no one else, people should be able to look at a stone and see her name there and know what she went through. In all respects, Scott’s book is probably the only thing that really keeps the memory of her alive.
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Children’s, Classic Fiction, Coming of age, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, O’dell-Scott, Young Adult