Review: On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves
September 7 2011
Yummy Man – TJ Callahan
Kick Ass Chick – Anna Emerson
From Goodreads –
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.
There’s a bit of a backstory to this one. Did you read the blurb? If not, go and read the Goodreads blurb above. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Go read it now. *hums to self*
I was asked a while back if I would be interested in reviewing a book that was seeing a “second life” of sorts called On the Island by Tracey Gravis-Graves. I read the blurb and immediately thought “Um…ew. No thank you” and turned it down. I had apparently taken stupid pills that morning.
It’s a month or so later and Marcela and I are in the middle of our daily ten hour tweeting marathon when I asked what she was reading. She told me she was reading On the Island and that so far she was really enjoying it. When she told me what it was about, I remembered that book. And she was liking it? Really? I asked her to tell me how she liked it once it ended and she agreed. A few hours later, I received this tweet:
“You have to read it. It was great, it made me laugh and it made me cry. 4 ½ Stars – 5 stars…”
Now, I know this seems like a nice normal happy tweet but believe me, coming from Marcela that is a glowing recommendation! I checked Goodreads and holy jumpin’ the ratings! A bunch of my GR friends had read it and almost all gave it 5 stars! So admitting that I may have been wrong to jump over this title, I went to Kobo and purchased the book. I really didn’t have the time to read it but I didn’t care. I started the book around 10pm and read until 2am – and only because I knew if I stayed up any later, the next day I would be screwed. At that point, I was 74% in. I woke early the next day to finish it. I just didn’t want to put it down. And when I reached the end, I knew that a) this is a perfect example of how a blurb can sort of kill a book’s mood and that b) I had just read a book that will end up on my Favorites of 2012 list. (It’s already on my Favorites page and on it’s way to the author’s house to get signed :))
I don’t often go into what a story is about because I am always afraid to share spoilers but I feel this is a book that needs it. On the Island starts off with seventeen year old TJ and thirty year old Anna. TJ is finally in remission after a serious battle with cancer and his family has decided to celebrate his being better with a family vacation. Of course, the last thing a boy TJ’s age wants to do is spend the summer away from his friends – especially when mom hires a tutor to help him catch up on all the schooling he lost while sick.
Anna is the tutor. She has been in a relationship with her current boyfriend for eight years and it doesn’t seem like the two of them are on the same page when it comes to where their relationship is headed. Anna thinks this summer job away is the perfect opportunity for her to figure out what she wants to do next. Anna is a teacher and loves her job so tutoring in the tropics is not such a terrible thing.
TJ and Anna are due to meet TJ’s family on the remote island where they will be vacationing but mid-flight, their pilot suffers a heart attack and their chartered plane goes down. They wash up on an island and stay there for three years, until they are rescued.
I loved these two characters. TJ is forced to grow up pretty damn quick once he lands on that island yet he is still dealing with things normal teenage boys his age have to deal with. Plus there is the worry that he will get sick again. I found Tracey wrote him brilliantly – TJ matures right before our eyes, becoming a sweet, smart and caring man who ends up being totally in love with Anna.
Anna was excellent. Tracey wrote her so well; I totally believe everything she was going through. And that is saying something because it’s not like I can really relate to her situation not ever having been secluded on an island before. Anna had to be strong because in the beginning she didn’t see TJ as an equal; he was a boy she was wrecked with. She was not afraid to be honest with herself or with TJ about the situation or what she was feeling about it. And I really felt for her after the two were rescued, but I’ll get into that in one second.
Anna and TJ had to take a terrible situation – one neither had been in before – and survive. Not once did I feel like I was reading a book about two people who watched one too many episodes of Survivor and who happen to know what they needed to do. They tried things that worked and things that didn’t. And when they succeeded, I cheered along with them. I just felt like Tracey wrote a very believable story here.
I am going to deal with the issue I am sure you are all curious about: did I ever think “ew” while reading this book? Were there any inappropriate scenes while TJ was a minor? Let me tell you that not once while reading this book did I feel wrong or icky. Tracey does a fantastic job with TJ and Anna’s relationship. Nothing inappropriate happens when it shouldn’t and when things finally do get physical, TJ is well of age and you can tell that these two really love each other. It’s not just a ‘well we’re stuck together so who else is there?’ sort of thing. It’s a powerful love story and you are pulled into it right alongside the couple.
I am going to be honest with you guys: I was really concerned about what would happen once TJ and Anna got rescued and returned to “real-life”. That part of the book could easily have been handled terribly. But I found, once again, that Tracey wrote it well. The post rescue stuff is not easy to read. It’s not fluffy and not everyone is happy with a young man and a not as young woman coming together, but it’s realistic. And do not worry; the book has a wonderful happily ever after. The sort that made my heart swell. And the rescue itself, I really liked how Tracey made it happen thanks to real-life events. I won’t say more but really, that was neat.
I was also very impressed with how the book was written. It is written in the first person point-of-view from both Anna’s and TJ’s perspective. One chapter is Anna and one is TJ. I loved this! When you read first person pov, you tend to feel a stronger draw towards the character. You really feel as though you have been right there with them on their journey. You feel doubly so in this book because you get the pov from both main characters. I thought writing it this way was brilliant.
Often when I write a review, I write the last paragraph first. The part of the review that recaps what I thought of the book and that tells you why it was okay or great and why you should go out and buy it. It usually comes easily to me…but for some reason it was not coming easily to me for this one. I want all of you who are fans of contemporary romance books to know how amazing this book is and how it was a joy to read. But I find I am afraid that I will not be able to get through to you all how much I enjoyed this book and how I truly believe you should all read it. This worry has caused me many evenings of writers block. So I will just say it plainly:
Read this book and love it too. It really is that simple. It is impossible not to be enamored with these characters and enchanted by Tracey’s writing. On the Island is an incredible story and you really all must give it a try.
One of my favorite quotes
“I waited for her to swallow and then I lost my shit completely”