Today I am going to be reviewing On The Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves. This was a recommended reading under ‘forbidden love’ and ‘summer reads’ so if you’re looking for something light and entertaining to read by the beach or pool… this book is definitely it.
On The Island follows two characters; 30 year old Anna Emerson and 16 year old T.J Callahan. T.J has recently recovered from Hodgkins Lymphoma and is ready to go back to school. Anna is T.J’s teacher and she is travelling to the Maldives with T.J and his family so he can catch up on his schooling.
Now in remission, T.J wants nothing more than to return to his old life with his friends. Meanwhile, Anna is dealing with problems in her current relationship and is desperate for some time away to think about her future.
Enroute to join the family in the Maldives, the plane carrying Anna and T.J crash lands in the middle of the Indian ocean. After drifting for some time, they eventually make it to a small deserted island and together, they learn how to survive.
The days turn to weeks, then months and the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the threat 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.
The novel explores what would happen if two people who would otherwise never be together (or be allowed to be together) are put in a situation where they have no choice but to rely on each other and eventually form a bond that goes beyond survival. Though it is a story of forbidden love, nothing romantic happens between these two characters until T.J is eighteen years old.
What I liked about it
I am a huge fan of survival stories, particularly those set on a tropical island. I’ve read Robinson Crusoe, and I’ve watched Castaway and The Blue Lagoon, all of which I love. This book is very similar to The Blue Lagoon in that a relationship forms between the two main characters.
This novel captivated me from the very first page, it had an intriguing (albeit eyebrow-raising) premise, and I liked that it alternated between T.J and Anna’s perspective. Each character is dealing with their own problems before the crash and they’re in completely different stages of their lives. While on the island however, their problems are one and the same as they fight for basic needs such as food, water and shelter.
Unlike a lot of “instalove” romances, this is a very slow burn love story. Up until T.J is eighteen years old, the story is a straight up survival story, with a couple of scenes that build tension and foreshadow what’s to come. But as their feelings develop, the romance slowly unfolds. Romance novels may not be for everybody, particularly when the two main characters have such a huge age gap and what is essentially a student-teacher relationship—but I think this book handles this issue really well, and the love that develops between Anna and T.J felt very real.
Another thing I loved was that it was set in the early 2000s and took advantage of some real historical events that happened during that time.
What I didn’t like about it
I tend to judge books based on how entertaining they are or how well they tell a story. This book is fairly close to being perfect in my opinion. The tension between the characters was palpable, however the moment they gave into their desires felt like it was described too quickly. But… that’s just me being picky.
There were a couple of slightly unrealistic/far-fetched moments and there is a chance that the story after the rescue might feel a little slow—but these things didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I love reading about the aftermath of rescue. Initially, I thought I wouldn’t get past the age difference, because I felt that Anna and T.J were so ill-suited at the start, but everything ended up being well above board.
Will you like this book?
If the premise interests you and you like movies like The Blue Lagoon or Castaway, it’s likely that you’ll really enjoy this book. If you’re a fan of Emma Donoghue’s Room, you’ll probably like this one too, because it’s divided into two parts: time on the island and after the rescue. If you’re open-minded and not put off by the forbidden love element, I recommend giving this book a chance.