Scott O’Dell, you may or may not know, is the author of Newbery-award-winning Island of the Blue Dolphins, a book I read over and over again as a young wannabe pioneer-ranger-girl-of-the-woods. Island of the Blue Dolphins is the kind of book that gets assigned to Grade 6 reading groups. Zia is a kind-of-sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, and when I say “kind of”, I really do mean “kind of”.
Island of the Blue Dolphins is a survivor story about a girl on an island. Zia, by contrast, mostly takes place in a Spanish-run Catholic mission, by the sea. Zia Sandoval is a young teen who, with her younger brother, moved from her mountain village to the mission with a specific purpose – to find her aunt, Karana, who was left behind on the Island of the Blue Dolphins many years ago when her people came to the mainland. But if you think that Zia is about the many trials and tribulations and efforts to find Karana, you would be wrong. Rather, Zia reads like a mishmash of daily events for Natives living under Spanish colonization. In other words: not plot-driven.
So, for instance, in this slim book we hear about mission/army politics, unrest of Natives living on missions, different styles of running a mission, whalers and whaling-boats, how to rebuild and row a small boat, and how to fish for a large fish. Zia’s quest to reunite with her aunt is a continuous thread in the story, but doesn’t always drive the story. The book reads as a description of Things That Happen to Happen while Zia is waiting to fetch her aunt.
I’ve read Zia a few times – the first time I was hoping for a survival story like Island of the Blue Dolphins and I was disappointed by the relative banality of mission life. The second time, I was exhausted and looking for mental relief from caring for an infant, and I found Zia to be a really interesting snapshot of mission life. Full disclosure, though: caring for an infant fries the brain. So who knows if this review is at all accurate?
Reading Ages: I think that a Grade 5er could easily read this book, but it would also do for a Grade 7 who is not otherwise inclined to reading – at least in terms of ease of language and age of the heroine (early teens is my guess, maybe as old as 14-15).
Rating: B-. I mean, I liked it, but I like historical fiction and I only liked it the second time around. The pace of the book is pretty slow and I think that my younger self would have lost interest relatively quickly.
Must run, baby is stirring.