On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves
Two people stranded on an island struggle to survive—and slowly fall in love—in the runaway New York Times bestseller, now available with a reading group guide and a letter from the author Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher desperately in need of adventure. Worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that’s going nowhere, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen-year-old T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. His cancer is in remission and he wants to get back to his normal life. But his parents are insisting he spend the summer in the Maldives catching up on all the school he missed last year. Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahan’s summer home, and as they fly over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens. Their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they’re stranded on an uninhabited island. At first, their only thought is survival. But as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.
I was approached by the publisher to review On the Island and did not really know much about it, but the synopsis intrigued me. I can definitely understand why this made the New York Times bestseller’s list. Tracey Garvis-Graves delivers a powerful, taboo romance that will have you rethinking age old opinions. I was completely captivated from page one and consumed this in a single evening.
Anna Emerson is at a crossroads in her life. She wants children and marriage, but the man she has been in a relationship with for eight years doesn’t want to commit. At thirty-one her biological clock is screaming and she decides to accept a summer job tutoring T.J. a sixteen year old boy who’s recently recovered from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She will be spending the summer on a tropical island with them far from her life at home. She plans to use the time to reflect and make decisions regarding the relationship. T.J and Anna travel from Chicago to the islands. On the final leg of their trip, they fly in a private charter over the Maldives islands. It is here that the unthinkable happens. The plan crashes and they find themselves on a desert island. The tale that unfolds is fascinating, beautiful, sad, scary, and wonderfully touching.
The characters were fully developed and I had a strong sense of who they were. I connected with Anna and really liked her. T.J. was sweet and brave. He seemed to accept the way things were, and rather than dwelling on how bad their situation was he worked to improve them. The tale is told in alternating POV’s and this really helped me connect with them. The romance that develops is sweet. What? Wait aren’t they sixteen and thirty..eww! That was my first thought too, but this is not insta-love and it took years to develop and it felt so genuine, believable and right. For those who are still freaking out, I will tell you nothing happen until T.J. was nineteen. They are normal, functional people who found strength, friendship and compassion from each other. It was beautiful and I loved their story.
The world building and Graves writing style were smashing. I became completely swept up in the first few pages, and didn’t surface until the last page. Questions raced through my mind as I read; Would they be saved? Would their love survive if they left the island? It’s the kind of tale that is so surreal and makes you think about their circumstances. Could I survive on a desert island, let alone a day without soap? Could I even make a fire? The tale itself spans several years and I was intrigued by island life and how they survived. Some scenes I found awkward, maybe because they were awkward for the characters. Overall, they added to the believability. It’s wonderful when an author makes you fully invested in two characters and their romance.
I highly recommend On an Island to fans of contemporary romances, survival tales and chick-lit. I will definitely be reading more of Graves work. Her next book Covet will be released in the summer of 2013 and will deal with adultery. Adultery in novels is a real turn off for me so I am anxious to see if she can take me out of my comfort zone again.
I gave this novel 4.5 coffee cups out of 5.