Book Review: On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

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.



A lovely romance, an incredibly unique premise, but for me, parts of this fell flat.

It mostly comes down to what I expect from first person perspective. I expect emotion. I expect insight. Not only do I expect to read about a sequence of events, but I also expect to know what a character thinks and feels about those events as they unfold.

I didn’t during most of this.

Imagine that you’re stranded on an island in the middle of the Pacific, when suddenly your only companion and the person you happen to love becomes violently ill out of nowhere:

“I found the first aid kit and shook two Tylenol into the palm of my hand. I helped him swallow the Tylenol with water, but he threw up all over himself a few minutes later.
I cleaned him up with a t-shirt and tried to shift him over a little, to a drier part of the blanket. He cried out when I touched him.”

That passage is one of many that left me wondering a lot of things. Is she freaking out because he’s sick and all she has to treat him with is Tylenol? Did him puking turn her stomach? Isn’t she terrified that the man she loves might die and there’s nothing she can do to save him?


Okay, aside from my annoyance at the detached storytelling, there were other things missing from this. Things that won’t bother most people, but things that nevertheless bothered the hell out of me. Because I used to live on a 8 x 5 mile tropical island.

A huge part of what was lacking from this was the complete and overwhelming culture shock of returning to the mainland. How walking into a Walmart feels like tripping balls because the largest building you’ve seen in years was a mere fraction of its size. How being a passenger in a car going over 50 mph makes you have a panic attack because SLOW DOWN, YOU’RE GOING TO FUCKING KILL US. NO, I DON’T CARE THAT YOU’RE GOING THE SPEED LIMIT, HUMANS WERE NOT MEANT TO TRAVEL FASTER THAN A FART FLIES.

So yeah, there’s that.

Honestly, I still think there’s a lot of good in here. And I urge anyone looking for a unique love story to give this a try.

Just don’t read it on a plane. Because *shudder*

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