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Zia    by Scott O'Dell order for
by Scott O'Dell
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Yearling, 1995 (1976)

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Medal in 1961, and in 1976 the Children's Literature Association named the story 'one of the ten best-American children's books of the past two-hundred years'. O'Dell was inspired by a true story of a twelve-year old American Indian named Karana. Her eighteen-year stay on the island came about when she jumped ship to remain with a brother who had been abandoned, during the evacuation of Ghalas-at (an island off the coast of California).

Zia is a fictional, stand-alone sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, featuring fourteen-year old Zia and her younger brother Mando. Daily the youngsters scour the shores of the Mission Santa Barbara, where they relocated from the Cupeno village of Pala, with the encouragement of the padres. Zia and Mando's move was intentional, as they plan to journey to the Island of the Blue Dolphins to bring back their aunt Karana. Captain Nidever tells Zia that he saw the footsteps of a woman about a year ago, when he ventured onto the Island during a hunt for otter. He could not be sure that it was their aunt as she ran away, but knew definitely that it was a woman.

Fortune shines on Zia and Mando from their Indian gods, Mukat and Zando, when they discover a boat cast up on the shore of the Blue Beach (named for the hundreds of blue clams that wash ashore). The eighteen-foot boat is identified as one which drifted from a whaling vessel, the Boston Boy. They add to their find a sail from a small piece of cloth, fishhooks and anchor hand-honed by Mando, and a plaque renaming the boat Island Sister. Captain Nidever gives them a compass, and directions to sail to the Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Zia and Mando set out with bottled water, beef jerky, tortillas, and enough food for a week, trusting that Mando will catch many fish. Their journey is difficult, with high winds and waves that look like hills. They are sometimes beached from heavy collections of kelp. But their most frightening experience is being captured by the Boston Boy's crew, who plan to display them in Boston as real Indians. Zia tells Mando, 'We are slaves to no one. Nor are we something for people to stare at.' They escape at night in the Island Girl, but their dream of finding aunt Karana is shattered as they barely make it back to the Mission Ventura.

Captain Nidever speaks of plans for an otter hunt and to visit the Island, finally deciding to do so in September. Zia begs to go with him, but his answer is no. However, Zia convinces the Captain to take Father Vicente so that when they find the aunt, she will not be afraid. After the Captain's departure, Yankees bring measles to the mission. Plans are made to escape. Zia is given a key to unlock the quarters of the boys and girls after the guards are settled, but she stays behind. It is here that Zia faces a great trial, being imprisoned and under constant questioning about the escapees and their leader.

Scott O'Dell rendering of Zia's narration is melodic, dramatic, and heart-wrenching, reflecting her determination and undeterred courage. O'Dell (who died in 1989) was one of America's most-respected writers for young people - his legacy includes The Black Pearl, Sing Down the Mountain, Carlota, My Name Is Not Angelica, and Thunder Rolling in the Mountains.

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