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theunicorner

theunicorner

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The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood
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On the Island - Tracey Garvis-Graves There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this book, due to its subject matter. So naturally I wanted to check it out. Due to my general cynicism over much buzzed-about books these days, I went in with fairly low expectations. After reading this book, I found those expectations pleasantly exceeded.I don’t like to discuss the subject of the novel—a relationship between a barely-legal young man and a 30-something woman—as controversial because in my opinion, it really shouldn’t be. That anyone finds this controversial at all is pretty telling to me, given that we live in a society where May-December relationships like this are no big deal—provided the genders are reversed, of course. Much was made over Demi and Ashton when they first became a thing, but everyone seems to have blithely accepted the union between teenage Courtney Stodden and 52-year-old Doug Hutchison. And these relationships are real, not fictional.This novel is not a gender-reversed Lolita, as it’s being made out to be. T.J., the young man, is hardly an innocent. As a former leukemia patient now in remission, he’s done a lot of living, and it’s lent him an air of wisdom beyond his years. Anna, the older woman, is likewise hardly a female Humbert Humbert. She’s smart, practical, and exceedingly normal. When she first lays eyes on T.J., she’s not all “awww yeah fresh jailbait.” Rather, she simply sees him as her student, and it’s actually he who’s attracted to her. She never encourages him, but she does respect him as a person and as a friend. She never talks down to him or treats him like a kid. There are many moments during the text that I, the reader, nearly forgot about the age difference between them. Unlike Lolita, this is the point. The island is the Great Equalizer.Though the scandalous nature of the romance was the focus of most of the hype surrounding On the Island, I would argue that it isn’t really the focus of the novel. Anna and T.J.’s relationship is complex and well-drawn; they’re not The Blue Lagoon reheated. Its evolution is slow and the romance is a long time in the making; technically, they don’t become romantically involved until T.J. is nineteen and they’ve been on the island for a few years. Their focus until then is merely survival, although they grow closer in the meantime. Without giving away very many spoilers, the couple does eventually have to face the repercussions of this romance in the real world, off the island. And the text unflinchingly takes those realities on.The book is a quick read; I got through it in about three days, and it would probably have been quicker if I hadn’t been busy with work. The narrative is fast-paced, told in alternating first-person point of view between Anna and T.J. I find that sustaining a novel in first-person to be a difficult endeavor, and not without pitfalls. I think Garvis-Graves takes this on very competently, however. Anna and T.J. both have very distinct voices and are both well-developed characters. The reason I had to deduct a star is a rather minor point, but one that stuck with me—there are certain aspects of their survival on the island that are a bit of a stretch, as far as realism goes. I find it difficult to buy that they would be able to subsist for years on supplies packed for a summer in Maldives. But the lack of realism is no worse than say, an episode of Lost (barring the you know, smoke monster and time travel and whatnot) and it was fairly easy to get past it. In conclusion, would I recommend this book? If you’re into this sort of thing, absolutely. It really rises above what it’s made out to be, and would make a great beach read (yes, I’m aware of the pun). Definitely a nice palate cleanser after reading a book I rated with one star and will not name, haha.