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REVIEW: On the Island by Tracy Garvis-Graves

Dear Ms. Garvis-Graves,

I picked up your book because it is everywhere lately. The concept of the teen boy-older woman romance is pretty repellant to me, but over 700 positive reviews on Amazon for a self-published book told me I should give this one a try. I read it, and I can see why it appeals so much. It’s a quick, easy read with a sweet romantic storyline at the center. If you’re looking for something soothing and nice, this is the book for you. If you are looking for controversy, keep looking.

12991245On the Island is the story of Anna and TJ. Anna is a 30 year old private tutor who has traveled overseas for the summer despite her boyfriend’s wishes. She wants to be engaged and start a family, and the boyfriend does not. So she takes a job as the private tutor of TJ, who is a 16 year old recovering from cancer. While on a plane ride over the Maldives, the pilot has a heart attack and the plane goes down. Anna and TJ make it to the island and then struggle to survive.

The plot is a very simple one: stay alive until rescue. TJ and Anna have a hard time adjusting to the island life. There’s no fresh water, they don’t know how to care for themselves, and there’s no shelter. Over time, they figure out how to care for themselves, and as the years pass, they grow to care for each other. Three years pass on the island before they are rescued. I feel like that is a spoiler, but it’s touted as a romance and I don’t think these two could have a happy ending while on the island, so I’m comfortable revealing that.

The romance between TJ and Anna is rather uneventful despite their age differences. TJ of course finds Anna extremely attractive, but he holds this in check and doesn’t touch her or even watch her bathe in the ocean. They’re never nude around each other. They’re very careful until TJ is over the age of eighteen, and then he slowly begins to make moves on Anna, who is reluctant because he’s her student and he’s barely legal. Eventually, however, Anna gives in and they have a relationship. By the time they get off the island, they are firmly a couple. When they are off the island, society questions the relationship between the two and Anna continues to have doubts as to whether she should be with TJ.

I thought it was good that Anna had doubts, as being the reader, I had lots of doubts about this relationship. While it worked for them on the island, when they got back to land, I did wonder how it would pan out, and the author explores this for a time. Unfortunately, once they do get off the island, I felt as if all tension had drained from the book and struggled to finish the last third of the story. It went on for too long. Furthermore, I felt like the conflicts of Anna and TJ’s relationship were easily resolved. Anna was a teacher, and she’s fired, but she is given a settlement, so she’s fine monetarily. TJ’s family likes Anna so there are no problems with the relationship there. It’s just all very…pleasant.

I think that was my biggest beef with the story – it’s just nice. Anna and TJ struggle to survive on the island, but they are given lots of things to ‘help’ them survive. Anna’s suitcase washes up and it is conveniently filled with enough shampoo and toothpaste and such for several years on the island. They use her earrings as fishhooks. No one really has a problem with the relationship other than the media. All conflicts are presented and then quickly dismissed again. Overall, it’s just a nice, easy story. It’s not particularly memorable in my eyes, either. Everything is just a little too pat and saccharine. Even TJ’s cancer, which is a concern for both characters in the time on the island, is easily dismissed once they return.

It’s not a bad book. The cover is pleasant, the typos were few and far between, and the writing style is very easy to sink into. I read this in one sitting and enjoyed it, but looking back on it, I feel vaguely dissatisfied. Perhaps I was looking for more emotional nuance, or perhaps I was just hoping to be blown away like the other 700 positive reviews on Amazon. It’s not a bad read, but it wasn’t a great one, either. C+

All best,
January

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January Janes

January likes a little bit of everything. She's partial to unique paranormals, erotic romances, contemporary, and YA. She has a fondness for novellas and trying self-published works, though more of those are misses than hits. She still refuses to read anything that smells like literary fiction. January also changes this bio on a regular basis depending on her reading mood.

24 Comments

  1. Diana
    May 24, 2012 @ 15:46:25

    Good review. :) I agree about the general pleasantness of the novel — there’s not, if any, serious angst. Even the relationship troubles were very quickly and calmly smoothed over with minimal muss or fuss.

    My biggest problem with the book, though, was I thought that Anna and TJ had the exact same “voice”, if you will. They didn’t seem to have distinct, different personalities, and their narrations and thoughts sounded pretty alike to me. I often had trouble distinguishing whose thoughts or dialogue I was reading if it wasn’t specifically tagged by name. That’s just my opinion, though. :/

  2. Kristi
    May 24, 2012 @ 18:00:25

    Oh, I think it deserved more than a “C+” but to each his own. :) I particularly liked it because I was so predisposed to not like the age differences. I think overcoming that barrier and in such a good way really made me admire the ‘differentness’ of the book. I know, not a word. Whatever! I could really imagine the unease and problems they were running into due to the age difference. The parents… the friends…

    It was ‘nice’ how it ended but it seemed perfect. I loved how she tied it together at the end.

  3. AnimeJune
    May 24, 2012 @ 19:12:13

    Great review! Yeah, one of my pet peeves with lesser romances is when there’s a huge build-up and fear and reasonable expectation of conflict … only for there to be none.

    For some reason.

    For me, there has to be a REASON when there is no conflict. It’s why I sometimes tend to dislike family-series romances where EVERY family member IMMEDIATELY likes the new significant other REGARDLESS of their scandalous past. I’m not saying they can’t grow to like the SO, but really.

    Tension- and conflictless romances bore me to tears – I’d prefer overdramatic illogical drama to tedium.

  4. Sweeney
    May 24, 2012 @ 20:02:06

    I would have given it a solid B. It is a very nice book, but it’s also very compelling. Any book that grabs my attention and doesn’t let go, like this one, is a keeper.

  5. DA_January
    May 24, 2012 @ 20:16:16

    @Diana: Now that you mention this, you are correct. I sometimes had a hard time telling who was narrating each chapter. It was a bit confusing upon occasion.

    @Kristi: Sadly it was just a C+ for me. Pleasant enough but not a keeper and not memorable. Others have loved it though.

    @AnimeJune: I agree. I wanted to see more conflict between the family and Anna, as they were unable to see the slow blossom of the romance between the two. As the reader, I understood their romance, but I would not expect family to be instantly accepting, as they had hired her to be their sick child’s tutor. It would be a gross misuse of authority at any other time.

    @Sweeney: I’m sure others will like it more than I did. It has a lot of positive reviews that loved it. It just failed to really cross the line from good to compelling in my book. It’s purely subjective.

  6. Natalie
    May 24, 2012 @ 22:07:58

    Good thing I read the book way before this review was posted. It was one of the best romance debuts in the last year (and I’m pretty hard to please these days). Did the things resolve a little too easy for the characters? Maybe, but not the point of being saccharine. I think they still had plenty of things to overcome to be together. And really, do they have a perfect HEA? What if TJ’s disease is going to come back? What if the age difference does cause some grief?

    The book also made me think about what I would do in Anna’s place. I’m about the age she was at the beginning. Would I hook up with a teen? Not likely, not under the normal circumstances. But stranded on the island like that? Who knows. I might have jumped his bones way faster, LOL. Do societal restrictions even matter if there’s no society any more?

  7. Ridley
    May 25, 2012 @ 00:36:10

    Is it me, or is there an awful lot of defensiveness in this comment thread?

  8. Mohini
    May 25, 2012 @ 03:37:01

    @Natalie:

    Didn’t January say that the romance was believable on the island and her biggest problem was the way the boy’s family accepted it so easily? That’s what I got from the review anyway.

    Januar, great review.
    I’m not going to try this book because the premise is just beyond me. I’m sure there are eighteen year old kids who are mature enough to be in relationships with people over a decade older but I’ve never met any so this really hits the wrong buttons.

  9. Ellie
    May 25, 2012 @ 04:54:15

    I got this book when it was on sale, after hearing all the hype. I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it’s nothing too earth shattering, but my overall impression was a very sweet, satisfying love story. In fact, I’m going to e-gift it to a friend for her birthday because I think she’ll really love it. It’s the perfect thing to read after a bunch of angst. It’s the anti-angst book. Love my comfort reads! Not all the time, but at the right time.

  10. Kate Hewitt
    May 25, 2012 @ 05:06:33

    I found this book completely compelling while I was reading it, although the off-island bit did drag for me. It was only afterwards that I started thinking about it and seeing its weaknesses–the convenience of the suitcase washing up, for example, and the way certain things were brought up (like Anna becoming pregnant) and then just dropped. The characters were not all that fleshed out; whether intentional or not, as the book progressed TJ seemed to morph into super-mature man and Anna seemed to get younger, bursting into tears and being uncertain about everything. Having the characters change in that way seemed to flatten out the age difference a bit; I would have preferred a bit more age-appropriate immaturity from TJ and older woman wisdom from Anna to highlight their differences. Still, I gobbled it up in one sitting so that is saying something. I think the premise intrigued me the most. Has anyone read Notes On A Scandal for a completely different take on a teacher/student relationship?

  11. Karen
    May 26, 2012 @ 13:38:53

    I really enjoyed this book!

  12. Canada
    May 27, 2012 @ 22:46:04

    I was very reluctant to read this story, didnt know if i was going to like the premise of the old trapped on a deserted island relationship, especially with the age difference between the characters. I am soooo very glad took the chance though because this story was so much more. I never once thought about the age difference, just the characters. I believed this to happened due to the great amount of detail that went into this book. I found myself feeling as though i was right there with T.J. and Anna and felt every triumph defeat and love that they went through during their ordeal on the island. I really loved that it was not all romanticized and perfect especially during the 2nd half of the story.

  13. bonitajia
    May 30, 2012 @ 16:21:15

    Oh My! I just finished the book. I read a review of it at amazon.com..Good thing I read it coz I can’t put it down..It is a refreshing read. You feel what the characters undergo because their emotions are told so vividly and in both the characters’ point of views. The steamy scenes are steamy but it didn’t detract from the quality of how the story was told.

    I read somewhere that a movie will be made out of this book!! If this is so then I already have my preference to who will play Anna and T.J.

    It is always a habit of mine that whenever I read a novel/ story, I first imagine what they would look like. I’m an imaginative reader so this helps me a lot with my reading. Most of the time I read the first chapters and get a sense of the characters and from there I envision it. Usually, I imagine some actors.

    It is no different with this book. Putting these actors’ faces on the characters made the scenes in the book more exciting, dramatic (or whatever the author wants us the readers to feel) in the story.

    I imagined NATALIE PORTMAN for ANNA and BEN BARNES for T.J. I always find Natalie to have both the look of maturity and intelligence in her yet at the same time, she has this effervescence that makes you wonder whether she’s younger than her actual age. She is sweet and charming and at the same time she is sexy. I had a hard time thinking of T.J. Who would play a 16-17 year old boy who will rock the brooding ill look with braces. Someone who could play a young man and evolve into an adult. I thought of Cam Gigandet at first but he wouldn’t pass the sickly type..Others will fit the sickly look but will not pass into the T.J. with long hair, dark tan and lean muscles. One who will exude the vulnerability and strength, the innocence and the maturity, and one who can radiate both youthfulness and manliness. Suddenly, I remembered this actor who acted as Prince Caspian in Narnia who also portrayed the same youthful yet manly roles in Easy Virtue and Dorian Gray. He would be terrific because he will be able to play a teenager with the pale almost bald look with a brace on his teeth then one who grew into a man who is tanned with beautiful long hair and with lean muscles. He could smile with naivety and could like at you with smoldering eyes like he’s already experienced.

    If it will really turn into a movie, I do hope that Natalie Portman and Ben Barnes get cast as Anna and T.J. because they would be perfect for the role, personally speaking.

  14. Andrew McAllister
    Jun 03, 2012 @ 08:40:04

    Someone said there are only two kinds of music – good and bad. Well for me there are only two kinds of stories – ones that entertain me and keep me hooked, and ones that do not. This one definitely entertained me. Well done Tracey!

  15. MARIA
    Jun 12, 2012 @ 15:53:32

    As soon as the suitcase washes ashore I knew it was all going to taste like a toasted marshmellow.

  16. Justine
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 11:29:26

    From http://www.rtbookreviews.com/rt-daily-blog/forewords-books-buzz-64:
    MOVING TO PRINT
    Mainstream Fiction – A few weeks ago we reported that Tracy Garvis Graves’ e-book phenomenon On the Island (a story about a teen and a older woman who fall in love while stranded together) was up for a film adaptation. We’ve just learned that the digital first book will be re-released next month and her sophomore novel Covet will come to stores in 2013.

  17. Miguel
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 13:17:56

    I read the book in one sitting. The story kept my interest and the island adventures were fun. I do not read too many romance novels but I should since I enjoyed reading this one.

    I will look to read this author again.

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  21. Catherine
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 21:30:56

    I absolutely adore this book. Once I started, I could not stop reading. The plot of this story is perfect. While I don’t exactly know how I feel about the age difference between Anna and T.J, part of me wants to accept it, because they actually do show feelings for each other. This book is a great read for anyone who wants to pick up a book and get sucked into it. I promise, once you start, you won’t want to put it down! (:

  22. Nicole
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 23:12:02

    Finished the book last night. I didn’t have a problem with the age difference; I think the author clearly shows how age becomes irrelevant on the island, and TJ matures much faster than he would have if the accident had not happened. It’s a cracking story that kept me reading to see what happened next.

    Where I felt let down was in the writing style; alternating points of view was a good idea but the voices of Anna and TJ are too similar. And as a romance reader I wanted to know more of the thoughts and feelings of the characters at key moments. Some scenes would really have benefited from more description so I could get a better grasp of the characters and feel more immersed in their experiences. Also, weeks and months in their lives go by (after they return to society) without giving us much sense of how they spend their time or what they talk about with each other or why they are so in love, apart from their shared traumatic experiences.

    It’s a cleanly written story, and I loved the epilogue. But it’s not written with the romance author’s sensibility or style (and I don’t mean that there needs to be more sex) so ultimately I feel a bit frustrated that potentially great material hasn’t been fully developed. I finished it at 2am having been unable to put the book down, but in the hands of a different writer I would have finished it at 2am with tears running down my face.

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