Thursday, August 30, 2012

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
Plume (Penguin Group)
ISBN: 978-0142196724
Published July 10, 2012
Trade paperback, 336 pages

Almost as soon as I got this book, I was in the mood to read it. I started it, thinking I was just going to dip into it, but then I couldn't put it down! I read half of it that first day—I actually wanted to finish it but, alas! daily activities of everyday living got in the way—and finished it the next day. I wanted to know what would happen to the characters, how they would survive, how long they would be stranded on the island, and how they would deal with their unique situation. It was tragic, suspenseful, exciting and funny at times.

The premise is different. Anna Emerson, a thirty year-old English teacher and T.J. Callahan, a sixteen year-old cancer survivor are heading to his parent's summer home in the Maldives, where Anna is to tutor T.J. on all he missed during his illness. But when their seaplane crashes and they are stranded on an uninhabited island, one among thousands in the Maldives, their life becomes one of constant survival and interdependence.

I'm not a huge fan of books where older women fall for really young guys, but this book handled this topic well. The author made it work for several reasons: 1) She does not romanticize the tragic situation of two people stranded on an isolated island after a plane crash. Both Anna and T.J. had to work hard to stay alive, and I shudder at some of the things they survived. 2) T.J. starts out as a sixteen year-old teen and grows to a mature twenty year-old man. Their relationship as a couple only begins when he is nineteen, of legal age. 3) They were in an extreme situation, having to do things together that most people never do in their lifetime, (think sharks, starvation, illness) hence making the reader cheer for them when they survive one bad situation after another. 4) The author deals with the difficulty and challenges of their age difference realistically. And finally, Anna and T.J. mutually respect each other throughout their ordeal. Their relationship transitions from teacher/student to deep friendship and finally to adults who feel a mutual attraction to one another and fall in love.

The author alternates the short chapters with Anna and T.J.'s point-of-views and this worked so well for me because I saw the whole situation from both perspectives, that of a mature woman and teacher, to that of a teenager who was changing daily, from a boy to a man. We gradually see the changes in the characters as time progresses so that they are no longer the same people they were at the beginning of the story. I loved both these characters who were strong and fought their weaknesses not only to survive but to help one another. 

The only thing that could have made their journey better was if Anna had actually used the time on the island to tutor T.J.. They had so much spare time on their hands, and I would have loved for the author to have explored more of what they could have done to keep intellectually stimulated so as to keep at bay their feelings of isolation and desperation. Island inhabitants make useful things from the land using leaves, rocks, sand, grass, plants, etc, but for a school teacher, Anna was not creative.

This novel was pleasurable and easy to read, and it made me think. Ultimately, it's a beautiful love story. If you want to escape into a different world for a few hours, this book is entertaining and will have you questioning what choices you would have made to survive.

Note: This book is rated P = profanity for a few f-words, other curse words, and religious expletives. And it's rated S = sexuality for sex scenes and sexually-related situations.

Reviewed by Laura

Disclosure: Thanks to Penguin for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

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