And Then I Read: ZIA by Scott O’Dell

zia

© Scott O’Dell estate.

This is a sequel of sorts to O’Dell’s most famous novel for children, “The Island of the Blue Dolphins,” winner of the Newbery Award in 1961 for best children’s book. The setting is the California coast in the early days of settlement by Europeans, mainly Spanish, who are in the process of subjugating the native peoples and taking over their lands. A series of missions built by the Catholic Church along the coast provide some help to the natives, but also exploit their labor and talents. Zia, a young native girl, and her brother Mando have traveled to the mission at Santa Barbara and try to make a life for themselves there, but Zia has a secret mission: to find a way to get to the island out in the ocean where her tribe originally lived, to see if her aunt Karana is still living there. Karana, the heroine of “The Island of the Blue Dolphins” was left behind on the island when her entire tribe emigrated to the mainland, and her story is mainly told in that book.

Zia and Mando’s story is equally interesting, though with an underlying sadness because they are exploited and taken advantage of by almost everyone they meet in one way or another. Only one kind priest at the Abbey is on their side, and he helps them when he can. Zia and Mando make an ill-advised sea voyage on their own to try to reach the island, but are thwarted by whalers. Eventually Karana is found and brought to the mainland (as seen from her perspective at the end of the other book), and joyfully reunited with Zia, but Karana fits into the life at the mission even less well than her niece and nephew, and things do not go well for her.

Scott O’Dell does a wonderful job of recreating the times and places he writes about, and he tells the story as truly as he can, without making obvious moral judgments. That’s left up to the reader. I didn’t like this book as much as “Blue Dolphin,” but did enjoy revisiting that world. And Zia and the other characters were well worth meeting. Recommended.

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