Although I am quite a prolific reader, I have to confess to sticking to what I know in my reading material. I rarely go away from the women's fiction/chick lit genre, so it has to be something really good to entice me away from my known and trusted books. I received a review copy of Tracey Garvis Graves' debut novel On the Island a few weeks ago, but quite quickly dismissed it as it didn't seem like something that would interest me hugely. Then I saw a few tweets about it, and then decided to look it up on Goodreads. Well, that instantly changed my mind as there were so many reviews raving about it. I did wonder if it was another Fifty Shades of Grey... you'd love it or hate, but decided to try it nonetheless. Was it any good? Well put it this way - I read it in just 6 hours and was up until 3am doing so.
The book quickly dives into the action, and I loved that. It begins introducing us to high school teacher Anna, who has just accepted a summer tutoring a teen who is in remission from cancer on holiday with his family. The pair are flying out separately from their hometown, and when they arrive near their destination, they hop on another plane which has an awful accident. The pair ended up crash landed on a desert island in the middle of nowhere, with no hope of being found. The pair are frightened, and start to learn how to survive on the island, learning how to find food, shelter, and cope with being the only people in each others lives for the forseeable future. As the months turn into years, the pair grow closer, and have adjusted to their lives as survivors against the odds. But do the pair stand a hope of ever being found?
As I said, the book quickly gets to the part of the plane crash and Anna and TJ's subsequent stranding on the island. The way Garvis Graves writes the scene is extremely realistic, and has you on the edge of your seat, wondering who is going to survive if at all. It's frightening to read, probably not one to read if you're afraid of flying already but I enjoyed the scene. The book is then with these characters stranded, and what I found was so amazing about this book is how beautifully Garvis Graves writes the emotions of these characters, and how realistic it all sounds, and it consequently made me feel so sorry for Anna and TJ. Their fear, worry, solitude and loneliness are profound throughout the story, and even when they seem to have settled into their new lives, and are quite accepting (in a way) of what has happened, you can still feel their grief at their circumstances.
The book is told with alternating chapters, with Anna as a narrator, followed by TJ. This worked so well because it allowed to really understand the feelings of both of these characters completely, and really get into their heads and states of mind. Garvis Graves also writes their different ages and personalities too, from the older, more mature Anna who has concerns about her career, her family and TJ's health, to TJ, a younger teenage boy who comes with all the feelings being a teenage boy en-tales! The relationship between the pair is so well written, with Anna being the more cautious and hesitant of the pair, with TJ stepping up to the plate of being the only male around. I found myself loving him for wanting to help and support Anna even though he is in the same cuircumstances as her, and loving Anna for just being herself. Despite the considerable age difference between the pair (Anna is in her early 30's, and TJ is mid-late teens), they bond quickly, and the friendship and relationship between them seems so natural and is a joy to read about - in fact, their ages work to their advantage several times in the book - Anna's for wisdom and maturity in times of danger, and TJ's for his youth and optimism.
Their stay on the island is so well imagined by Garvis Graves, that for the time you are reading the book, you are the third inhabitant of that island along with them. Everything, from the way they hunt fish, to the medical problems, dire weather situations and exploring the island is perfectly written, and jumps out to you from the page. I loved the realism Gravis Graves used, and the language allows you to really imagine so brightly in your mind. I felt emotional along with these characters, everything they felt, I felt too and it allowed me to get so into the book, I could enjoy it even more. I am not going to spoil it by going into any plot detail, but I loved it more as it went along, and the twists and turns along the way just kept me glued. It got better and better, and even when it was way past my bedtime, I couldn't put it down as I had to find if there would be a happy ending for Anna and TJ. This is one of those books you'll be thinking about long after you put it down every evening, and I will be recommending it to everyone I know. It's emotional, you'll feel everything from fear, shock, love and relief, but it's worth every bit of it. A stunning debut - if you read one book this year, make it this.