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.
This is a hard review for me to write. On one hand, I finished On the Island in less than 24 hours and did enjoy it overall. On the other hand, however, I am still a bit mystified by how many 4 and 5-star reviews this book received. It’s a sweet, feel-good romance, sure, but it’s also incredibly simple and employs an overload of deus ex machina. If you’re typically a critical reader, it can be hard to swallow. Allow me to back up and explain what worked and what didn’t…
I was perfectly willing to accept that Anna and T.J. would eventually develop feelings for each other. It made sense to me, given what we know about the characters starting off: Anna is an older woman, ready to start a family and dissatisfied with her current relationship, and T.J., while young, has had to grow up before his time due to his battle with cancer. They didn’t immediately fall in love, or even in like, until much later in the book. Their budding friendship and then eventual romance was sweet and natural, and given the circumstances, realistic. Outside of the romance, however, the two characters were hard to relate with. I can’t put my finger on it, but I didn’t actually care about the characters, though I was interested in what happened to them, which is what ultimately kept me turning the pages.
Despite the fact that the synopsis hints at a survival story within the pages, On the Island is definitely more of a romance. While Anna and T.J. did encounter obstacles, every single one of their problems was almost instantly and conveniently resolved, and this where the employ of deus ex machina comes into play. I won’t give away too much, but the finest example is what I call “The Magical Suitcase” washing up from the wreckage, with almost everything they could possibly need to be rather well-off (including laundry detergent so their clothes would be clean!) I wish there had been more real danger, but even the presence of a shark in their lagoon wound up not being a big deal. I was disappointed, to say the least. I love a good shark bite survival story!
One other thing I did appreciate about this book was the fact that Anna and T.J. are eventually rescued, and we get to see how they adjust to reality and how their loved ones adjust to their taboo relationship. However, after the first few days of being back in the States, the story kind of falls apart for me. While their problems were certainly real, I feel like nothing was really expounded upon, and once again, things kind of worked out a little too perfectly. Fans of happy endings, however, will be thrilled with this book and, I imagine, wishing for their own similar happy ending.
As far as the actual writing goes, it’s fair to good in some places and is easily readable, if a bit choppy. The dialogue fell a little flat for me, which I think may be why I couldn’t really see the characters as real people. When you get involved in the story, though, it’s rather easy to overlook the rough patches, which is what matters in the end.
So, let’s be clear: If you’re a stickler for realism and details, On the Island is not the book for you. However, if you’re looking for a fluffy, feel-good romance, On the Island is the book for you. It’s a perfect summer/beach read, and I know dozens upon dozens of people who simply loved this book. There is a very clear message within its pages: true love knows no bounds (including age), and love can find you anytime, anywhere. Let’s all remember to be open to the possibilities of love!
*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via AToMR Book Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you for participating in the ON THE ISLAND Event! This week in addition to reviews and posts, select blogs are hosting a word from the author’s favorite quotes in the book as a Scavenger Hunt! There is one quote from Anna and one from T.J. Visit each stp this week to find the hidden words (they will be numbered for order) and after July 22nd, submit your answer to the quotes at the link below! Random winners for books and swag will be chosen and notified by July 29th.
BLOOKGIRL’S SCAVENGER HUNT WORD: “okay?” This is Anna’s quote, word #8, the last word of her quote. Enter the complete quote here.
Check each stop each day to see who else is a Scavenger Hunt host to find all the words! Good luck!
This week, July 23-27, there will be even more events and chances to win the book and swag!
Monday, July 23 at 8:00 pm CST – Chat with the author Tracey Garvis Graves! We will be chatting with the author on Savor Chat: http://www.savorchat.com/chat/on-the-island-chat Come join us! (You can sign in with Twitter or Facebook)
Each day look at #ontheisland on Twitter for random shout outs to win books and swag! (And follow @Tale_of_Reviews!)
ON THE ISLAND released in bookstores Tuesday, July 10th! If you see the book in stores or ‘in the wild’ take a picture. Please tweet it and use hashtag #ontheisland. Or you can post it to Facebook! Please submit Twitter and Facebook links of your post/tweet here! All entries need to be submitted by July 29th.