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.
Recently I watched a movie on Lifetime called “The Blue Lagoon: The Awakening” and it really got me in the mood for “stranded on deserted island” stories. I watched the first two Blue Lagoon movies and found myself kind of bored because I’ve seen them so many times. Feeling unsatisfied, I remembered a blog post that I read probably a month ago that briefly talked about a novel called “On the Island”. At the time I blew it off because it didn’t appeal to me, but now that I was on this “two people alone on a deserted island” kick I decided to give it a chance—and I’m glad I did. This novel was wonderful and I loved everything about it. I swear I have recommended it to so many people and will talk about it to anyone that will listen to me:)
So here’s the story... Thirty-year-old Anna is tutoring sixteen-year-old TJ for the summer on his family vacation in the Maldives. TJ is in remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and because of his illness he had missed most of the school year, thus his need for a tutor so he can graduate to his junior year instead of having to repeat the 10th grade. Anna was unable to leave with TJ’s family for the islands because of her school schedule, and TJ wanted to stay behind for a friend’s “party” so it’s agreed that Anna and TJ will travel together to the islands and arrive after TJ’s family. Nothing seems to be going right during Anna and TJ’s travels and tragedy strikes when the pilot taking them to the island resort has a heart attack mid-air causing the plane to crash in the middle of the ocean. Anna and TJ survive the crash and eventually make it to an island, which they soon learn upon arrival that it is deserted. Believing that a plane will fly over within a day or so to find them, Anna and TJ make the best of their situation and do their best to survive with what little resources they have. When the possibility of being rescued dwindles, Anna and TJ settle into a routine and their life on the island. The days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. As TJ celebrates another birthday, officially entering him into manhood, Anna realizes that living with TJ is about to get complicated.
Okay, so right now you’re probably thinking that there’s a pretty big age gap between these two characters—and you’re right, 13 years to be exact (I know 30-16=14 but she turned 30 in May and he is going to be 17 in September, making the 13 year age gap). But the author does such a good job on making everything that happens between these characters completely natural. When they first arrive on the island, I felt that, although Anna and TJ were very much equals, Anna took on sort of a motherly role—caring for TJ when he was hurt and such. TJ on the other-hand did not think of Anna in a motherly way at all. Even before they crashed into the ocean he had a little bit of a thing for her, and those feelings only intensify with them being alone all the time—but he never makes them known. But as years pass, Anna and TJ grow to be great friends and, now that TJ is a man, he starts to be a little more blatant about his feelings—not hiding the fact that he’s checking her out, telling her she looks good, etc. Everything about their growing romance was so well written and completely unforced (nothing romantic happens between them—flirting,etc—until chapter 23 or almost halfway through the novel).
There are a lot of events that happen after you hit the midway point of the novel, and although I enjoy spoilers other people do not so I’m not going to give away anymore details of the book. Sorry to those of you who want to know more. I will point out a few other things I really liked about it before I end my review and give you my rating. I really enjoyed how each chapter was either written from Anna’s point of view or TJ’s (both written in the first person). The story would have been okay if it was written from a third person point of view, but I think with it in first person you get to actually understand what they are going through more, emotionally and physically. I also really liked how the author didn’t glamorize being stranded on a deserted island. Most of the movies or shows I’ve seen never go into how hard it is to survive on nothing. When they arrive on the island they literally have the clothes on their back and that’s it. They struggle to stay alive and hydrated their first few days there and come pretty close to dying. As they spend more time on the island they face more disasters and dangers—they get hurt, they get sick, they fight to stay alive, etc.
All in all this was a really great read and I enjoyed it so much that I finished it in one day (very hard to put down). After I finished reading it, I looked up the author, visited her website and discovered that this was originally a self-published novel (her very first novel ever) that was picked up by a publisher after it gained attention. Now she is a NY Times Best Selling Author and MGM has bought the option to make “On the Island” into a movie. I think that is amazing and I am really hoping that this does make it to the big screen because I will definitely be going to see it:)
5 out of 5 stars
This novel contains adult language (some strong language is used from time to time), mild sexual situations, and mild violence (not person against person violence but human against nature violence).