Book Review – On the Island

On the Island
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Last week I was looking for something different to read.  I host an online book club through Facebook, and I and my reading friends were trying to decide what our next book should be.  I had no clue, and nobody was offering suggestions; so I surfed out to the New York Times list of best selling books and stumbled across On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves.  At the time, it was ranked #11 on the Bestsellers list, and so I thought I’d check out the reviews on Amazon to see how well readers liked it.  I was a bit shocked to see a solid 4.5/5 star rating with over 1,100 reviews.  Could it really be that good?  Probably not, I thought, but with that high of a rating it was probably a good gamble for an online book club.  So knowing nothing more about the book, I posted to my friends that this would be our next selection.  At the time, it was only $2.99 for a digital version, so what would we really lose if it turned out to be a real snooze?

Within 24 hours, the reviews from our book club members began to trickle in.  Those who had started reading it were loving it.  Some people were staying up half the night to read it; they simply couldn’t put it down.

Still not convinced (I’ve been burned too many times by exceptional reviews, only to be disappointed), I figured I better put down my current read so I could figure out what the hype for this book was all about.  And, oh boy!  I’m so glad I did!  Like my Facebook friends, I simply couldn’t put it down.  I plowed through it in one day; something I never do these days because I simply don’t have time.  I have so many things on my “to do list” that most books take me 2-3 days.  Not this time, though.  This time I refused to put the book down.  This time I locked myself in my bedroom and told my husband and kids that they simply had to leave me alone.  Their lives would be in jeopardy if they disturbed me.  And, as I turned the last page, I closed the book with that feeling of complete peace and contentment.  It was everything it was hyped up to be, and even more.

On the Island tells the story of 30-year old teacher, Anna Emerson, and her almost 17-year old summer student, T. J. Callahan.  Anna has accepted a summer position tutoring T.J. who has spent the last two years battling Hodgkins Lymphoma.  He’s now in remission and his family has decided to take a summer rental in Maldives and employ Anna to tutor T.J. through the summer months in hopes of helping him catch up with his classmates before the next school year.  It was the perfect opportunity for Anna to make some money during the summer, while enjoying a beautiful vacation spot in the sun.

As Anna and T.J. travel together to meet T.J.’s family in Maldives, their pilot experiences a heart attack in mid-flight and they find themselves crash-landing in the ocean and washed ashore on one of the area’s many deserted islands.  The pilot was dead before the plane hit the water, and – as the only two passengers and survivors of the crash – Anna and T.J. are left to survive the elements on their own.  It will be 3 1/2 years before they are rescued.

Living and working together to survive on the island, Anna and T.J. become more than teacher and student; they become best friends and partners in their shared effort at survival.  As the years pass by, that friendship blooms until – shortly before T.J.’s 19th birthday – the two become true partners in all things.  On the island, the years that separate them become irrelevant and the best friends and partners eventually fall in love.  But when they’re finally rescued, how will they manage to rejoin civilization?  Will friends and society in general understand the love they share?  Can that love survive the outside influences and prejudices of the outside world?

Author Tracey Garvis-Graves

On the Island is a beautiful story about love and survival.  It was so much more than I expected.  It was quite frankly an incredible first novel by a promising new author.

Interestingly, On the Island appears to have been originally released as a self-published and free download through Amazon’s Kindle; however, its popularity brought it to the attention of publishers.  Though it is currently only available in digital format, the author has just released information that a paperback version will be released on July 17th by Plume (an imprint of Penguin Publishing).  In the meantime, digital copies are available online through Barnes and Noble for Nook, Amazon for Kindle and Apple for iBooks.

For more information about this book or the author, visit the author’s blog at


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