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Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Reader's Diary #2070- Scott O'Dell: Zia

It was some 12 years ago that I read Scott O'Dell's popular young adult book Island of the Blue Dolphins. I remembered that I'd enjoyed it at the time, though almost nothing else. I certainly didn't recall that Karana, the island castaway protagonist, was indigenous. I think this speaks volumes about the strides that have been made in the meantime in cultural appropriation awareness that one of the first questions I had was whether or not Scott O'Dell had any business telling this story. What kind and how much research did he do for authenticity? Did he attain permissions from cultural knowledge keepers?

While looking into this, I came upon Debbie Reese's critical analysis of Island of the Blue Dolphins which answers these questions and weighs in thoughtfully. While the specific examples are not from Zia, the sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, many of the takeaways could be the same. The most generous of these would be that O'Dell was well-meaning, though inaccurate. That Island of the Blue Dolphins is entertaining should barely matter considering that better books, written by Indigenous people, exist.

That Zia isn't even that entertaining makes it even less necessary and I'm not surprised that it's been largely lost to history. Zia is Karana's niece and she is determined to make contact with her aunt after 18 years away. It sounds like it could be a good reunion story, or a compelling story about Karana's re-integration to living among people again after such a long time. Unfortunately the book is poorly paced, meandering here and there by ripping off books like the Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick and taking forever to get around to Karana's return. When she does, it's anti-climactic and there's barely any interaction between Zia and her aunt.

1 comment:

sam said...

This was a great book, Island of the blue dolphin, a Newbury prize winner. Cultural appropriation is a product of the poisonous cultural Marxists. You really care about some dead tribe on the west coast? Just worry about yourself man that all you got to do