On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
Self Published – October 11, 2011
Published through Penguin – June 7, 2012
Reviewed by Mandi
On the Island starts with a thirty year old teacher, who has decided to take a tutoring job for the summer with a family that will be vacationing in the Maldives, a chain of 26 islands in the Indian Ocean. Anna has a boyfriend of eight years but she is tired of waiting around for him to propose so they can move on with having a family. He is not thrilled she is leaving for the summer but she needs a break to sort out her life.
TJ is Anna’s tutoring student and is sixteen years old. He has battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma and has now been in remission for a few months. He missed a lot of school, so his family has hired him a tutor for the summer to catch up. They fly off for the destination a few days before Anna and TJ (who has plans with some friends) meet them. On the way to the island, the pilot of their seaplane has a heart attack, and they crash into the Indian Ocean. They new their pilot was critical, so they put on life jackets right before the crash. TJ quickly finds an unconscious Anna in the water, floating with her until the next day the wash up upon a deserted island. From here, they must learn to survive. Getting water is their number one goal. Shelter, and fire follow. Luckily, Anna’s suitcase eventually washes up, giving them much needed supplies.
When I first heard about this book, I’ll be honest and read it was about a thirty year old woman and a sixteen year old boy and didn’t want to read it. But I kept hearing buzz about it on Twitter, and finally decided to take a peek to see what it was all about. I’m so glad I did. This book ended up being so warm and engaging. I never once felt any icky feelings towards their romance, as they nothing happens between them until TJ is almost 19.
Having Anna in her early thirties and TJ in his late teens, this relationship could have gone two ways. I think it could have gone more the mother/son route maybe if Anna had been settled in her life with a husband and kids. But that is not the case. Anna comes to the island with a boyfriend back home, but one that is more work than fun and love. Right from the start, TJ’s character asserts himself as the one that takes care of Anna. She passes out after the crash and he is the one to drag her to the island. TJ is the one who figures out how to make a fire. TJ is the one to build them a house. He is there to care for her after severe jellyfish stings and a bat attack. Anna is scared of the rats that live in the forest, so TJ must build the shelter closer to the beach. Anna won’t go into a deserted cave to explore because she is scared of the dark. All of the events culminate into making TJ her caretaker of sorts, rather than the older Anna caring for TJ. Anna is strong in her own right, I’m not trying to say she is wimpy or a burden. I really enjoyed her as a heroine. But I couldn’t help but notice the strong emphasis the author puts on TJ into making him ‘a man’ and the person who is more in charge on the island. Making him look mature in these areas, before they head into a romance.
He had pulled his hair back in a ponytail, and he wore my cowboy hat and aviator sunglasses. His face was so tan he looked like he’d been born on the island. He had a great smile, with straight white teeth, prominent cheekbones, and a solid square jaw. I needed to shave him again.
“You look good, T.J. Very healthy.” He was lean, but he had well-defined muscles, probably from building our house by hand, and he didn’t show any outward signs of malnutrition, at least not yet.
“Yes. I’m not sure how, but you’ve grown here.”
“Do I look older?”
“Am I good-looking, Anna?” He knelt down in front of me and grinned. “Come on, you can tell me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, T.J.,” I said, smiling at him. “You’re very good-looking. If we ever get off this island you’ll be quite popular with the ladies.”
He pumped his fist in the air. “Yes.” Then he put down the hammer and took a drink of water. “I can’t remember what I looked like before the crash, can you?”
“Sort of. But I probably haven’t changed as much.”
I never had a problem with how the romance unfolds either. Nothing remotely physical happens until he is almost 19. At that point they had been on the island for at least two years with pretty much no hope they would be rescued. It honestly made complete sense that this step would be taken. Really, what else is there to do? What surprised me a little is the depth of love that overtakes them. And I was also pleased with how that love stayed with them, even after they get rescued. Although they have their own sets of problems once getting off the island, things don’t completely unravel. I will say that I got a little bored with events post-rescue. I feel like things are dragged out there. Or maybe that time just pales to comparison with their time on the island, which is more adventurous and just different.
I found the epilogue., set four years into the future to be a really great addition to this story as well. I love the path TJ takes after the island with school and his job. There are moments in this book where I got a little tight in my throat. It is not guaranteed that TJ’s cancer would never come back. And when they started to explore the possibility of one of them dying for whatever reason, and the other being stuck on the island by themselves, for who knows how long, it really hits you emotionally. They never forget how much danger they are really in and that brings them closer together. I’m really glad I finally read this one.