Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves

On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves
Published: August 16, 2012 by Penguin
Source: Gifted from Jess - thank you!
When thirty-year-old English teacher Anna Emerson is offered a job tutoring T.J. Callahan at his family's summer rental in the Maldives, she accepts without hesitation; a working vacation on a tropical island trumps the library any day.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to leave town, not that anyone asked him. He's almost seventeen and if having cancer wasn't bad enough, now he has to spend his first summer in remission with his family - and a stack of overdue assignments - instead of his friends.

Anna and T.J. are en route to join T.J.'s family in the Maldives when the pilot of their seaplane suffers a fatal heart attack and crash-lands in the Indian Ocean. Adrift in shark-infested waters, their life jackets keep them afloat until they make it to the shore of an uninhabited island. Now Anna and T.J. just want to survive and they must work together to obtain water, food, fire, and shelter.

Their basic needs might be met 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. [goodreads]

This novel was recommended to me profusely by one of my good friends, Jess from Gone with the Words.  I always trust her judgment in books, but something about this one held reservations for me.  Could it be the teacher/student relationship? Or my unknown fear of being trapped on a deserted island?  Whatever the reasons, they quickly vanished as I made the decision to finally read this novel -- and what a beautiful, most unexpected journey it took me on.

Anna is spending the summer in the Maldives, a grouping of tropical islands, for the summer tutoring T.J. who has spent some time out of school due to being sick with cancer.  Now that he's on the road to recovery, his parents thought a family vacation for the summer would be a good idea for T.J. - but they also wanted him to catch up on his studies, so that's why they enlisted the help of English teacher Anna.

Anna and T.J. take a later flight than the rest of his family, planning to meet them there.  On the way their journey goes terribly wrong, sending them to what should have been their deaths -- a plane crash in the middle of nowhere, deserting them on an uninhabited island.  My nerves were shaken up at this point, terrified of what lied ahead for them.  I quickly turned page after page, in search of their rescue, hoping and praying along side them, only to lose hope as their dehydration set in and their resources became limited.

This book is about human survival, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.  Our bodies need water to live, just as our hearts need companionship to survive.  The relationship between Anna and T.J. was predictable, but it occurred at such a slow, easy pace, allowing the reader time to understand their situation and believe in their need for one another.  Before I read this story, I thought their relationship would bother me, but honestly the difference in their ages faded away as their love for one another grew stronger.

The means these two went through in order to find food, seek shelter, and stay alive in the raw elements of nature really grabbed my attention.  If I were ever to be in this situation, I honestly have no idea how or even if I'd be able to endure what they went through.  Though some parts felt a little too easy, like Anna's suitcase washing ashore just when they needed it most, I tended to look past that and just believe that convenience was needed for the story to progress in the manner it was meant to be told.

On the Island goes further than I had expected, a fateful twist about half way through carried the story in a new direction, which caused me to keep reading, never wanting to put the book down.  I feel as though I am walking away from this novel, away from Anna and T.J., as if I knew them.  Their story really took form, and as dramatic as it became, it felt tangible seeping from the pages.  If you're on the fence about this one, as I was before, I strongly urge you to give it a go.  Take a chance with this story, it may just surprise you.


  1. I'm currently kicking myself as I recently had the opportunity to purchase this book at 40% off at our local bookstore but passed at the last moment as the idea of the student/teacher relationship made me understandably uncomfortable. If only I had read your review first! I've always enjoyed survival stories and I'll certainly keep my eye out for this book the next time I'm at the bookshop :)

    Lovely review, Ginger. It was a true pleasure to read :D

  2. I'm so happy you decided to give this one a chance. Even more happy you loved it. :D And you're totally right about this being about human survival! Great, great review, Ginger!

  3. OH I'm so glad you liked this one, Ginger! This is one that I've re-read several times because I just love it so much. I love the risk the author took with certain parts of the story, but how she carried it through until the end which was lovely. And the novella that just was published - Uncharted - was really nice as well. It's actually a really good length for the price and adds quite a bit to the story. I think you'd like it as well. Really, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one!

  4. The future teacher in me is squirming at the teacher-student relationship. And to that a crash-landing resulting from a pilot heart attack (totally plausible!) and subsequent survival story. I'm intrigued, yet incredibly wary. Clearly, not wary enough because I just bought the book before finishing this comment. That happens to me entirely too often when it comes to your reviews, Ginger! Regardless, this sounds really risky and interesting and I'm just curious enough to give it a go.

    Super awesome review!

  5. You know how I feel about planes, but I might have to suck it up so I can read this -- it sounds so good!

  6. I bought this book for my Kindle a long time ago, and honestly, I had some reservations about it too. I have never been a fan of deserted island books/shows/movies. But oh man, this book definitely was the exception. I thought that the age difference would bother me too, but it was handled by the author in such a way that you completely understand Anna and TJ's need for one another. (I mean, does age really matter when you feel as if you are the only 2 people left in the world?). Not to mention, after everything that TJ had been through with his cancer, he was already way more mature than a normal 17 year old.

    I won't give anything away for those that haven't read it, so I'll just say this: I thought the ending was perfect! While I was reading this book, I was SO hoping that the author would go far enough into the future that we would find out if Anna got what she wanted most. Anyway, I loved this book, and I LOVE your review, because I tried to review it on Goodreads, and I just couldn't find the words to adequately convey my feelings about it!

  7. I read this after I saw you reading it on Goodreads and I was totally blown away, so thank you! The student/teacher relationship totally freaked me out at first, I understood how it could happen, but it was kind of uncomfortable for me to be rooting for it to happen (which eventually I totally was). But I agree that it faded over time and I really felt like Anna and TJ were real people. Great review!


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