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Sandy M’s review of On the Island by Tracy Garvis Graves
Contemporary Romance published by Plume 10 Jul 10

What an emotion-filled story this is. What amazing, unexpected, horrible things this hero and heroine go through, and how they survive will astound you. This is a book that will pull you every which way and then some. I read it in one day. If you don’t read Tracy Garvis Graves’ On the Island, it’s definitely your loss.

T.J. Calahan’s cancer is in remission, and his mother is dragging him to Maldives for the summer. He doesn’t want go to, he has friends he wants to spend time with after his illness. So as a compromise, T.J. will get a few days of partying and then travel with his new tutor, Anna Emerson, to spend the next three months exactly where he doesn’t want to be. Anna is at a crossroad in her life. Her boyfriend of eight years is still not ready to settle down, so some time alone is needed to think and make some decisions. So when the offer to help T.J. catch up on his studies comes long, Anna jumps at the chance.

But it’s while in the air to their destination that their world takes a life-altering turn. The pilot suffers a heart attack, and before he can land the seaplane, it crashes into the ocean. The crash scene is one of most intense in the book, and you wonder if either Anna or T.J. will survive. But they do, washing up on the shore of a deserted island. At first it’s hit or miss to keep themselves fed and hydrated, but as time goes on they become more proficient at finding food and water. It does help that a few of their things also wash ashore. You can imagine what shampoo and soap meant to them…toothpaste, extra clothes, and other things that tremendously help living in their suddenly new home.

Despite those few luxuries, they still have difficulties in other areas. They need fire and shelter. I love the way they work together. It begins with Anna being the one looked to for what’s needed. T.J. is not quite seventeen when their new life begins. As time passes and they learn more about the island and each other, T.J. comes into his own and contributes much more to their needs. It’s also after a couple of years have gone by that their relationship changes. They’ve survived not only the plane crash but also other things as well, violent storms, jellyfish stings, even taking down a shark that threatens their little lagoon. T.J.’s teenage hormones creep up on him, but he keeps a tight rein for a long time. Once that line is crossed between them, however, it’s a whole new dimension on the island.

Rescue eludes them for three years, and then it takes a tsunami nearly wiping out their existence before they’re found. Those scenes during and after the carnage are almost the best in the book. It’s this part that brought me to tears when neither of them knows if the other survived. Once Anna and T.J. find each other again, it’s time to notify their families and eventually make it home. But being home ends up being a double-edged sword. They’re as happy as can be to finally be off the island and their families and friends are ecstatic T.J. and Anna are, for the most part, alive and well. It’s the media and Anna herself who hesitate over their relationship.

As is human nature, all it takes is one person, in this case a disbelieving, poisonous journalist to throw doubt into the world about Anna’s supposed “abuse” of T.J., when it’s learned they share an intimate relationship. Anna knows T.J. has lost important teenage years, first because of his illness and then because of their time on the island, so she wants him to take time to be a teenager again. See friends, go to college, all those things we do when we’re young. Even T.J.’s mother realizes this and agrees with Anna, but she also realizes the grown-up son who has returned to her knows his own mind. However, T.J. can only take so much pushing, so after a while he leaves Anna to do as she asks, leaving them both miserable without each other in the interim. I think what Anna doesn’t totally see is the man T.J. now is. Their experience has made him grow up so much faster. You can actually see the shift in the way they function on the island, from Anna’s more knowledgeable years to T.J.’s coming of age with first-hand experience of living to survive and his newly developed brawn.

This story is written in first-person, which I always enjoy. I know some readers don’t care for that, but in this case it enhances the story so much. Along with the writing and the characters and their untenable situation, it pulls you smack dab into the middle of the book, making you feel as though you’re right there with Anna and T.J., going through all the travails and triumphs with them. I firmly believe if it had been written in third-person, the story wouldn’t have the same bone-deep impact it does.

I’m not even close in doing this book justice in my review. You have to read it. You have to. No doubt in my mind that you will not stop reading until you’ve gotten to the last page in close to one sitting, just as I did.

SandyMGrade: A+


Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher desperately in need of adventure. Worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that’s going nowhere, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen-year-old T.J.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. His cancer is in remission and he wants to get back to his normal life. But his parents are insisting he spend the summer in the Maldives catching up on all the school he missed last year.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahan’s summer home, and as they fly over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens. Their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they’re stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival. 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.

Read an excerpt.