I have no idea what prompted me to pick up Island of the Blue Dolphins yesterday. I was in the middle of something else, and for whatever reason thought “HEY, LET’S RE-READ THAT BOOK THAT TRAUMATIZED YOU IN THE FOURTH GRADE!”
Yes, that’s right, I said TRAUMATIZED.
I should explain. It wasn’t so much the book itself that traumatized me, it was the stupid book report I had to write to go with it.
I was in the GATE program from the first grade on. But I still didn’t really give a shit about school work. I mostly did the minimum I could to get by and then made up for it with extra credit. This served me well throughout my entire school career.
Except for that gorgeous late spring weekend when I was in the fourth grade.
It was hot enough for us to be using the pool that weekend, but my dad and step-mom were away, so I was under the rule of my step-sisters who were 15 and 17.
V, the older of the two didn’t really care whether I had my homework done, but H decided that since she was partially in charge that she was going to be the heavy.
I’d picked this book cos I’d read it several times and figured I could get the report done in half an hour, then spend the rest of the day playing in the pool.
H had other plans, though. She was a freshman in high school, so of course she knew everything. My report (which would have received at least a B+ if I’d handed it into Mrs Miller) was NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
No, I had to talk about THEME!
I had to EXPAND on my THOUGHTS!
I had to make this something suitable for handing in as if I were in high school, and I was not okay with this.
I distinctly remember thinking “WTF does she mean, ‘theme’????”
I grabbed my pocket dictionary and looked it up, and that was no help.
So I just started making shit up, when all I really wanted to do was talk about how cool it must’ve been to be living on an island all by yourself without bossy step-sisters telling you what to do all the damn time.
I went through half a notebook worth of paper that Saturday, I re-wrote the entire thing every time I took it to her and it was NEVER GOOD ENOUGH.
So I never got to play in the pool and I was pretty pissed.
I realize now that she was just fucking with me, and so I’m glad I decided to just hand in my original draft. But I’m still pissed that I didn’t get to spend my day swimming.
I HOLD GRUDGES FOR A LONG TIME, OKAY?
I re-read the book yesterday, not sure what I was expecting. In the years since fourth grade, I’ve looked up information on the internet about the Lost Woman of San Nicolas, and her story is even sadder than it’s portrayed in the book.
Island of the Blue Dolphins is kind of a feel good story for kids about overcoming adversity (HA! There’s your theme, H!). Yeah, she’s left behind and her little brother gets killed by wild dogs (which is surprisingly glossed over) so she’s alone for 18 years on this island with pretty much no one for company, but this chick gets shit done!
She was Ayla before Ayla, IYKWIM.
But the real woman this story was based on was considerably older (she’s described as being ~50 when rescued, not the 30 year old our protagonist would have been), so that makes a lot more sense as to how she could be so self-sufficient.
I mean, when I was a kid (and even as an adult), when I think of being dropped into a survival situation like this I think I’d pretty much just nope the fuck on off this mortal coil cos I know there’s just no way.
What do you think? Could you have survived by yourself for 18 years with only wild dogs, cormorants and otters for company? Or would you basically just tell the wild dogs to come at you, bro, cos it’s faster than sleeping to death?