First Published: 2011
Re-Readability:When I first read On the Island, I couldn't stop thinking about it for months. I talked about it non-stop, recommended it to whoever agreed to listen--and some who didn't. I was captured by this story in a way that happens rarely. It even haunted my dreams.
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.
And for a long while after, I wanted to re-read it. But I was also afraid. Afraid this novel, which I remember in my head as total perfection, would fail to bring forth the same feelings in me a second time.
Can someone please hit me over the head with a club forever, ever doubting this magical adventure? Finally re-reading it as I've always wanted to do, I was swept in this storm of emotions once again; fear, exhilaration, awe, disbelief. And so, so much wonder and love.
Anna and T.J go through a harrowing experience, and yet everything that happens on the island--and especially between them--is just magical. It almost feels like a fairy-tale. A really realistic one with some totally heartbreaking moments, but a fairy-tale nonetheless.
And those heartbreaking moments... boy, what heartbreak. But it's the type of heartbreak I recommend. The kind that makes you cry, but also mends something in your heart as you do so.
Anna and T.J's journey takes four and a half years. Four and a half years filled with craziness and danger that brings the two very slowly together. Four years of having no one else to rely on but each other.
Four and a half years to prove that love has no boundaries or rules or conventions.
T.J starts the journey an almost seventeen years old boy who had just survived a near death experience. This already puts him ahead of his years in behavior and thought process. Being faced with mortality so early in life does that to a guy. So he's adaptable. He is ready to face whatever may come his way, even if it means finding ways to survive a freakin' plane crash and an uninhabited island.
But through the course of the novel, he evolves and grows into a man. And the overwhelming, astonishing part of all this is that you can see it happen right in front of you. He becomes the rock that holds him and Anna encored, and not the other way around. And... he's a swoon-worthy rock. Yes, I went there.
As for Anna, she is a balanced combination of strong and weak. She cries and gets scared easily, but she will still fight for her life and T.J's with a fierce determination. She is a caretaker, through and through.
And the two of them fit. They balance and center each other. They are each other's reason for fighting, for never giving up. It sure as hell didn't start romantic for them, but developed slowly into friendship and then to more in a way so natural it was obvious it was meant to be. Almost as if the whole plane crash was god's way to bring these two together.
The island forged an unbreakable bond between these two. Made them see the best and worst of each other in a way no one has or will see. Made them know each other from the inside out. You can't escape such an ordeal without it leaving a mark. And Anna and T.J's mark is... love.
Now, I'm sure there are those of you who are like "wait, isn't he 17 and she's, like, 31 or something?" Yes, dear reader, they are. And you know what? it doesn't fucking matter. When I first read this novel, I felt like the first thing I had to do was defend the age gap between our lovely main characters. I had to first tell people how adult T.J is mentally, how it grows naturally and yada yada yada. The best defense is offense, right?
Well, fuck that. This book needs no defending from me--it does its own defending well enough on its own. If my adamant love towards this novel doesn't tell you enough on the heavy themes and subjects it tackles so incredibly, nothing I say will.
As for everyone else... do yourselves a service and READ THIS BOOK.