Slight spoilers... beware...
One of my favorite books this year is the former self published book, On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves. I first heard of On the Island because of excellent word of mouth from my fellow book bloggers, on twitter and on Goodreads. I had some reservations about reading this one mainly because of the fourteen year age difference between the two main protagonists and how their relationship transforms into a sexual one. The heroine is a thirty year old tutor to a sixteen year old boy who is in recovery from cancer. My main concern was if Tracey could pull of this relationship and write it in a way that's not uncomfortable or for a lack of a better word- “icky”.
I can say with surprising results, Tracey has done an amazing job, and I would recommend any reader of women's fiction or contemporary romance fiction to pick this one up. It has a Harlequin vibe to it, and I thought it would be perfect for the HQN or Mira line, for those readers who enjoy reading those books. But 40 agents rejected One the Island, including some publishers when Tracey decided to try and sell it. For shame traditional publishing! But in the end Tracey has gotten the last laugh. She took the publishing world by storm and has set up her own rules and now got a major publishing deal from a traditional publisher and sold her movie rights for On the Island.
Tracey is a self publishing fairy tale come to life and it’s well deserved. On the Island is one of the best self published books I ever read.
On the Island starts in June 2001. English teacher, Anna has been offered a job tutoring T.J. for the summer on Maldives where the family is vacationing. Anna takes the job because it also gives her time to think about her current relationship with her boyfriend who doesn’t want to settle down. She feels their relationship isn’t going anywhere, and this will give them both time to decide what they want from one another. Anna wants marriage and children, and after being with her boyfriend for eight years, the time has come to analyze things between them.
T.J. is three months into remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His parents and sisters went ahead to their vacation destination, and he and Anna will fly together to meet them. They both take a charter plane, and when their pilot has a heart attack, they crash into the Indian Ocean and end up on an island in the middle of nowhere. They both think they’ll be rescued and they wait and wait, but no help arrives, until three years later when a tsunami hits and then they’re saved. In those three years both Anna and T.J. rely on each other for survival. Anna is worried T.J. may get sick again from his cancer, including lack of nutrition and dehydration. Plus they’re both city people and don’t have the actual skills they need. But they make do and hope for the best, defying sickness and death. Soon Anna has nightmares that if and when they’re rescued, she’ll be an old woman. T.J. thinks he’ll never see his family again, plus his growing feelings for Anna confuse him. He wants her as much as a man wants a woman he’s attracted to, but he knows, as well as Anna there is a big ethical problem with this. Not only is she much older than he is, but he’s a minor. But as they both grow older and T.J. is finally legal and very much a man in mind and body, they can’t help but give into this attraction for one another, which leads to them falling in love. They build a home on the island together, even though they wish and pray to return to civilization. Then when they're saved, they must decide where they go from here, and whether they can take the criticism and questions that comes their way regarding their love and devotion to one another.
On the Island has been compared to a hybrid of the movies Castaway and The Blue Lagoon, which fits perfectly. Tracey excels in writing an emotional tale of survival. The description of the island T.J. and Anna are stuck on was well written, including this their reactions to their situation. Also the POV jumps between T.J. and Anna, which also works. There are sweet and tender moments between these two, including the ever constant presence of danger and death. Everything was believable for me, even though there are some coincidences that seems too good to be true, such as Anna’s suitcase washing up on shore with everything they need from soap to shampoo and other hygienic products, as well as chickens on the island they can eat, including enough fruit and fish for them to consume. But it works, because it gives them and the reader hope for a satisfying conclusion for both these characters we come to care about.
The growing attraction between T.J. and Anna makes sense. T.J., as a teenage boy with hormones and stuck with a beautiful older woman like Anna, is realistic. He’s full aware of the boundaries. Anna’s feelings are more of a protector, a mother like figure that slowly changes. It takes a good two years until T.J. is nineteen for her to realize her role in his life has changed. She becomes his friend and helpmate, and after analyzing her feelings for T.J., she comes to some conclusions. T.J. is the one who goes after Anna, and when he does, she falls for him. Reading this isn’t uncomfortable or disturbing. It makes sense that these two would rely on one another for support and affection. The love scenes are not gratuitous in any way and really cements the power of love these two have for one another.
The skill on Tracey’s part is the aftermath of the island and how T.J. and Anna want to make it work between them. They have to grow accustomed to the real world again and those around them who both accept and reject their relationship. The concern is the age difference, which Anna can’t stop thinking about because T.J. still has his whole life ahead of him. Some may think this is unneeded drama, but it helps build the ties and the bond she and T.J. have.
On the Island has the ultimate happily ever after I want in my romances I read. I got the warm fuzzies and I’m not ashamed to admit, I had to blink back a few tears when I finished reading. On the Island is a book about hope, survival, love and friendship. Tracey has accomplished this all with Anna and T.J.
If there is one book you read this year, please let it be On the Island. A beautiful, romantic tale I was so happy to have read. (Plume)
Final Grade: B+
A few other On the Island reviews: