Reading Guides

On the Island
Tracey Garvis Graves
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Two people stranded on an island struggle to survive-and slowly fall in love-in the runaway New York Times bestseller, now available with a reading group guide and a letter from the author

Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher desperately in need of adventure. Worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that's going nowhere, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen-year-old T.J.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. His cancer is in remission and he wants to get back to his normal life. But his parents are insisting he spend the summer in the Maldives catching up on all the school he missed last year.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahan's summer home, and as they fly over the Maldives' twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens. Their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they're stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival. 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.


Tracey Garvis Graves lives in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband and two children. On the Island is her first novel.


  1. The first sentence of the book tells you there is going to be a plane crash, and yet the author builds tension even before the crash. On page (tk) Anna buys two bottles of water and tells T.J. to put one in his backpack, and as readers, we are probably aware that Mick will have a heart attack even before Anna does. Why do you think the author structured it this way? How did it enhance the read?

  2. What were your first impressions of Anna and T.J.? And how did they change? At what point do you think Anna started seeing T.J. as an adult? When did you see him as an adult?

  3. Anna wishes desperately that the bag containing all the summer reading she packed for her trip would wash ashore. Of all the trappings of civilization she yearns for, it’s reading and books that she seems to miss the most. What five books would you pack if you knew you were facing years alone on a desert island?

  4. Anna and T.J. face a number of hardships on the island and talk about their greatest fears. Which would you fear the most? Losing the one person you are stranded with? Dying of rabies or dehydration or an allergic reaction? Running out of water?

  5. Do you think it was realistic that Anna and T.J. waited so long to be together? Would you have waited that long?

  6. How do Anna and T.J. change and evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?

  7. Strangely, 2004’s devastating South Asian tsunami is what ends up saving Anna and T.J. More than 200,000 people died in the tsunami - if you were Anna or T.J., how would you feel about the event?

  8. Imagine you were the one getting the call that a loved one was still alive after all those years. Do you think your reaction would be similar to Anna’s sister’s?

  9. The press conference scene was particularly dramatic for Anna and T.J. How would you handle becoming an overnight celebrity?

  10. After three and a half years of only talking to one other person, imagine how overwhelming it would be to try and fit back into society. What do you think would be the most difficult thing to get used to?

  11. What do you think about T.J.’s parents and the way they reacted to his relationship with Anna?

  12. What did you think about John and Anna’s relationship? Do you know anyone in a situation similar to John and Anna’s (his failure to commit after 8 years together)? Do you think that Anna would have stayed with him if she hadn’t been stranded on the island?

  13. The age difference between T.J. and Anna is 14 years. How would you feel about dating someone 14 years older or younger than you? How do you think your friends and family and the general public would react to that situation?
  14. Do you think Anna made the right decision in breaking things off with T.J.? Do you think she made the right decision to follow her heart and marry him?

  15. In the end, which character did you like the most and why? Which character did you like the least and why?

  16. What major emotion or emotions did the story evoke in you as a reader?

  17. Did the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?