Lately the reviewing business is a matter of keeping up with the latest "hot" books. To me, the word "hot" has a very specific definition: it refers to a tale crafted lovingly by an amateur writer who has reorganized his or her regular-workaday life to slave at the altar of a storytelling muse. After months of rising early and dashing off words before heading to the desk job, this author publishes the book on their own. What follows is a runaway-train of spectacular word-of-mouth publicity, gushing reviews, and digital technology, and the result is that the writer has a "hit" on their hands.
Cut to me, lowly reviewer, being notified that there's a bonafide bestseller I haven't heard of. Okay, I say, let me see what the fuss is about. And then a stunningly blue book called On the Island arrives, and the copy indicates that a thirty-something-woman and a teenaged boy survive a plane crash over the Indian Ocean. Enough time's passed since Sawyer and Juliet's (Lost - Season 6) tragic romance that I feel ready to tackle a new desert island caper.
So, late one night, after the children are sleeping and the dishes are washed and the nighttime glass of red wine is consumed, it is decided that one chapter can be read before bed. Then, suddenly, it's one in the morning. What are the consequences of staying up another hour to see how it ends? What's more important anyway, finding out if they get off this island or being able to function the next day?
On the Island is the next can't-put-it down romantic story. In the tradition of The Bridges of Madison County or The Notebook, it depicts the struggle of love verse circumstances. High school teacher Anna Emerson has been in a going-nowhere relationship for eight years, and what she needs is time to ponder whether she's willing to live without marriage and children. She accepts a summer position as tutor to a sixteen-year-old cancer survivor, T.J Callahan. T.J.'s family has arranged for everybody to fly to the Maldives, thinking that a summer away will limit distractions. For Anna, it's just the distance from her life she needs.
But life has other plans. T.J. and Anna's plane goes down over the ocean after their pilot suffers a heart attack, and from then on the only thing that matters is survival. After washing ashore on an uninhabited island, they are confronted with matters of life and death: finding water. Building shelter. Learning to fish. All while they hold out hope of being rescued.
Time passes. They bond; without each other, they won't live out a full day. T.J. can build the fires, Anna is a better assessor of threats posed by stray animals and stagnant bodies of water. But they talk. They explore. They battle the elements and the depression that comes with missing their families, and they share something that is stronger than their suffering: hope of rescue and the strength that's born of survival.
T.J. ages; it won't be too much of a giveaway to say that he and Anna are on the island for a long, long time. Initially, it seems a foregone conclusion that two attractive people living in seclusion will get together, and the inherent age difference between the characters elicits a slight shock of revulsion. But Graves' storytelling is subtle; Anna and T.J. adapt to a world where survival is all, and part of surviving is connecting with each other, no matter how old they are.
At two in the morning, the book closed, the wine glass empty, I understood why On the Island bewitched so many. There's urgency in the reading of it: will Anna and T.J. live to tell their story? Will they get off the island? And if they do, what will happen to the precious relationship they've forged through will and determination and exceedingly peculiar circumstances?
I was tired the next day. But it was worth it.
What is your favorite against-all-odds love story?
Melanie Murray is a writer and editor, and the moderator of Romantic Reads, BN.com's all-romance, all-the-time community forum. You can follow her on Twitter at @Melanie_Murray and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.
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