Paperback, 368 pages.
Release date: August 16th 2012.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
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.
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.
A story of survival against all the odds, On the Island, the compulsively readable debut from Tracey Garvis Graves tells the story of Anna Emerson, a thirty year old teacher, and her student, sixteen year old T.J. Callahan. Following a plane crash, Anna and T.J. find themselves stranded on a desert island. They are sure that they will be rescued in a matter of hours, but it doesn’t happen. Days, weeks, months and years pass. Every day is a struggle against the elements, against illness, against hunger, thirst and decay. And there are other struggles, struggles of the heart, as Anna and T.J. remain stranded on the island, day after day, year after year, just the two of them. Together. Alone
Anna is at a crossroads in her life. She wants marriage and babies, but the guy she’s dedicated herself to, the guy she’s spent eight years with, won’t commit. He wants Anna, but beyond that, he doesn’t know what he wants. So, when Anna is offered a summer tutoring job in the Maldives, she jumps at the chance. This will give her the space she needs to decide where her life is going. And what could be better than a summer in paradise? T.J. Callahan is not so excited at the prospect of a whole summer spent catching up on assignments. He’s finally in remission from the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that has so far plagued his life, and all he wants to do is hang out with his friends back home. He wants to let loose, to party, to hook up with hot girls.
We meet Anna and T.J as they embark on their trip to the Maldives, but they never make it that far, crash-landing somewhere in the Indian Ocean when the pilot of their seaplane suffers a heart attack. What follows is a compelling struggle for survival told in dual narrative, the viewpoint switching from Anna to T.J. with each chapter. I found myself reading late into the night as I got to know more about these two people, their hopes and dreams all fading away as they remained stranded on the island. If you think that reading about the daily lives of two people stuck on an uninhabited island sounds like it might be a little repetitive, then you’d be wrong. Anna and T.J encounter so many obstacles – from storms to sharks – in their daily lives. Every day is a struggle. Every day brings with it a new worry, a new threat. And then there is the constant worry that T.J.’s cancer might return. With him Anna can make it. But without him, she doesn’t know how she’d survive. And T.J. knows exactly how she feels, because he doesn’t know how he’d survive if she went first. As they share their fears with us, we worry for them. We put ourselves in their situation. We wonder about our own survival instincts. Would I make it on the island? Would you?
The subject matter of On the Island might raise a few eyebrows. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that the relationship between Anna and T.J. is as touching and honest as it is passionate. But if you haven’t yet read it, then you’re probably thinking that it all sounds a little or maybe a lot taboo. I had read a couple reviews of this book before I read it, so I already knew that the author dealt with the growing attraction and subsequent relationship between Anna and T.J. in a responsible manner, but it’s handled with a great deal of it sensitivity too. Anna is a responsible adult, always aware that T.J is younger than her, always mindful of the boundaries between them, and never crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed. T.J. has a quiet thoughtfulness about him. He’s more mature than a typical teenage guy.
T.J.’s been through a lot. He’s a survivor. He clings to life when it looks like all hope is gone. And he knows what’s truly important in life. He knows to never let go when you find the thing that makes you happy. This, he teaches Anna. I loved the characters that Garvis Graves created. I especially loved T.J. Both him and Anna are characters that readers will really warm to. T.J. and Anna were real and honest, true to themselves and to each other.
On the Island is a summer read with substance. It’s the perfect beach read, but there’s so much more to this book than some typical beach reads. On the Island will make you laugh and cry. It will make you think. This book has a heart. There is a lot of love within its pages, and sometimes, when all the odds are stacked against you, just like with Anna and T.J., all you need is love to get you through.
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