Author: Tracey Garvis-Graves
Publisher: Penguin (2011)
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.
I’ve been wanting to read On the Island for so long now, that once I had it in my hands I completely devoured it. It didn’t took me more than just a few hours to reach the final and overwhelmingly emotional chapter, and my heart was so full of love for this forbidden and social conflicting romance between such a young man and woman that all I wanted, all I desired, was for both of them to find their own happy ending. They not only deserved it for everything they had been through while on the island—and, in T. J.’s case, for the terrifying illness that consumed way too many days and months of his youth—, but also because of the confusion generated by their rescue once they reached US soil again. It’s kind of funny how now I look back and still can’t believe how fast I read this book, and how such a heavy theme like this one, about surviving in the middle of nowhere and desperately hanging on hope for some sort of liberation, ended up being light enough for me to consider it a Summer read.
I felt this book to be incredibly smooth and utterly captivating. The way the plot begins lets out the certainty of a great adventure ahead in a paradisiacal island, but as soon as they arrive in Malé and the difficulties persist, the reader starts thinking that something very, very wrong is on their way. And when the small plain crashes and the ocean is all they have we instantly know that nothing is ever going to be the same for any of them.
Anna is the first one we meet. She’s in a particularly decisive phase in her life, trying to figure out whether she should continue to be in a relationship with a person who doesn’t seem to want the same things she does, and by taking this trip to the Maldives in order to tutor a teenager who has lost important school time, the perfect opportunity to truly analyse what it is that she wants to do in the future pops out. T. J., on the other hand, is just someone who wishes he could enjoy the young years he still has ahead of him, even though he was a cancer kid just three months ago. Now in remission, he sees himself wasting an entire summer on an island with his family and a tutor he never knew before. The only thing none of them was ever expecting was the accident that would end up making them both dependent on each other for pure survival.
One of the several things that suits this novel flawlessly is the two POV’s that Garvis-Graves offers to readers. By making this plot decision, we have the chance of better understanding both protagonists about the same or similar happenings during the book, but even greater than that, as a result of having such different perspectives it is possible to sense every single nuance of (age) mentality and (life) customs.
Another element that, in my opinion, is of extreme importance to mention is the fact that this is, above all and everything, a love story. It didn’t mattered how long they were lost on an island in the middle of the ocean, it didn’t mattered that they almost died more than once, it didn’t mattered all the pressures, and difficulties, and decisions they had to make as soon as they were save, it didn’t mattered what people thought of them being together or how it made them feel, all that really mattered, all that ended up being key and imperative was the why and the how they fell in love with each other, the friendship that was built and the result that came out of it, the sense of complementariness, of togetherness that they felt every time they were together. They were two completely different persons when they picked that first plain in Chicago, but they were one when they came back. One being, one mind, one heart.
The only narrative option that didn’t entirely convinced me—although it never truly affected my reading—was the lack of details, and depth, and raw emotions whenever they were facing more life threatening or complicated circumstances. Especially during their time on the island—but off the island, too—I was expecting a more thrilling writing style with loads of suspenseful moments and doubtful survivals, and not something a lot more descriptive and superficial. It is not a bad thing when you think about the true core of the book, but I don’t believe it was a really good feature either.
In the end, I find this to be a great read because it is a story about a true and unexpected love. A story about overcoming all odds and obstacles, about keeping it strong, having determination, having perseverance and about never losing hope, never giving up, but always without avoiding adaptation or stop looking for something, anything, that can give us a bit of happiness. An amazing book, for sure.
If she had gotten sick, the only thing I could have done was watch her suffer. Bury her next to Mick when she died. I didn't know if I could make it without her. The sound of her voice, her smile, her—those were the things that made living on the island bearable. I held her a little tighter and thought if she woke up I might tell her that. She didn't though. She sighed in her sleep, and eventually I drifted off.»
«"I don't fit in your world."
"Neither do I," he said, his expression tender yet resolute. "So let's make our own. We've done it before."»