On the Island
Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publication date: July 17th 2012
by Plume (Penguin)
Two people stranded on an island struggle to survive—and slowly fall in love—in the runaway New York Times bestseller from the author of the forthcoming novel COVET.
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.
-A copy was provided by Penguin for review-
We’ve all been asked something along the lines of “What would you bring with you on a deserted island”, but for Anna and TJ, this is not rhetorical anymore. And unfortunately they didn’t even get that choice. All they have on the island they’re stranded on, is what has floated in from their plane crash. A suitcase full of mostly useless stuff, but stuff nonetheless. Stories like these really make you appreciate everything we have, here. The choices that we have. For Anna and TJ, they’re only hoping to survive from one day to the next.
One thing I appreciated from this novel is that it isn’t overly dramatic. There’s not a new crisis in every chapter, they don’t have near death experiences and close calls every 3 pages. Don’t get me wrong, the book is still intense and you never know what the next disaster will bring or even when it will come crashing in, but their journey on the island is made to be realistic – psychologically and physically draining – and not just full of shock value. It’s fascinating to see them adapt and eventually accept that they might be there for the long haul. They quickly learn to make do with the very little that they have, to live in the moment, to find joy in the smallest of changes in their routine – like finding a crab for dinner, or adopting a chicken as a pet. It’s the little moments that make this book substantial; that make these characters real.
Surprisingly, the story of On the Island is not a survivalist story – sure it’s a fairy big part of the novel; its foundation, even – but ultimately, it’s a love story. A love story between two people who form a bond under the most extraordinary of circumstances. A love story that, in the real world, would not be taken seriously. It would be frowned upon because of a number – something that has become so incredibly inconsequential on their island. I even came to hope they could and would somehow survive and stay on their island forever, because you just know that if or when they do get rescued, hearts will be breaking, including our own.
The easy pace and psychological aspect of this story makes for a deeply character driven read. You get to know who these two people are to the bone. You watch them grow and mature into who they need to be to survive this minimalistic lifestyle. The novel spans not only weeks or months, but years of their lives. TJ who begins the novel as a mere teenager shows the most character growth, where we see him turn into this independent, confident adult right before our eyes. While these time gaps work very well for the most part where days are filled with the same old, I did find it made the last quarter of the book feel incredibly rushed. So much happens in the span of 50 or so pages that I felt it could have been a whole book just on its own. I don’t feel cheated at all, tough, and on one hand I appreciate that the book was kept short and to the point, but I do think it could have been even more by allowing us to truly experience all that was happening, instead of rushing through it. In the end, though, this book is one that is bound to be memorable for years to come, and perfect for those who are looking for a story filled to the brim with character depth and emotional attachment.