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Phoenix Island

Review

Phoenix Island

John Dixon's debut novel, PHOENIX ISLAND, is a fast-paced story about violence, redemption, loyalty, and secrets.

John Dixon's debut novel, PHOENIX ISLAND, has already been adapted as the new CBS series INTELLIGENCE. Just a few pages into the novel, readers will see why it drew the attention of television producers; it's a fast-paced, truly enthralling story that will definitely appeal to teen boys and young men (and more than a few young women as well).

The novel opens as sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman sits in yet another courtroom, awaiting sentencing for another violent outburst. Ever since he was young, Carl has found it impossible not to stick up for the powerless against bullies and tormenters. More often than not, though, Carl is the one who winds up getting punished for his attempts at vigilante justice.

With its tough but vulnerable protagonist, its emphasis on male friendships and its cinematic pacing and action, PHOENIX ISLAND will appeal to teen boys, even those who might not normally read fiction.

Carl is an orphan --- his father, a police officer, was tragically wounded in the line of duty, and his mother died from cancer --- and he's spent most of his teen years in a series of foster homes, attempting to keep his violent tendencies channeled in a more healthy way by becoming a world-class boxer. But that pattern is about to come to an end, as the judge for Carl's most recent incident gives Carl a surprising sentence.

He has been assigned to Phoenix Island, a remote military-style detention center, where he will stay until he turns eighteen. After that, as the judge says, the choice is up to him: "Fail to learn from this opportunity, and I predict you will spend the rest of your life in and out of prison. If, however, you make the most out of this situation, and you learn to give others a second chance . . . you will be able to lead a good life as a productive member of our society." The judge even goes so far as to suggest that if Carl excels at Phoenix Island, he could fulfill his longtime dream of becoming a police officer like his father.

Almost immediately, Carl is whisked off to Phoenix Island, where he makes just enough friends to help ensure his survival in this harsh environment, where drill sergeants dole out punishment without mercy and gangs terrorize anyone they don't like, including Carl. Carl draws the wrath of one particular gang almost immediately; they don't like the fact that he's been given responsibilities that include scheduling other inmates for guard duty and other tasks. In order to save his own skin, Carl must constantly overcome the urge to stick up for the weaker boys who are ruthlessly tormented by drill sergeants and inmates alike, even though turning a blind eye to bullies runs counter to everything he believes in. And he even finds a love interest in Octavia, the beautiful but mysterious girl whom he spots on their very first day on the island.

But as Carl learns the ropes at Phoenix Island, he also starts asking questions. Why is the island located outside U.S. territory? Why are all the inmates orphans? Does anyone even know they are alive out there? When he catches a glimpse into his own file, he has even more questions --- how long has he been marked for placement at Phoenix Island? And why?

With its tough but vulnerable protagonist, its emphasis on male friendships and its cinematic pacing and action, PHOENIX ISLAND will appeal to teen boys, even those who might not normally read fiction. Dixon effectively delves into Carl's background to elicit readers' sympathies; he also, somewhat awkwardly, offers brief glimpses into Octavia's point of view. The character development could be made even stronger with a little more showing and less telling (e.g., "The more Carl got to know her, the more he liked her. She wasn't just pretty. She was tough and smart."). But since PHOENIX ISLAND ends with what readers will hope is a lead-in to future installments, it's likely that Dixon's writing and storytelling will just continue to grow stronger. Certainly Carl's story will make readers want to stick around to find out.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 8, 2014

Phoenix Island
by John Dixon

  • Publication Date: January 7, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN-10: 1476738637
  • ISBN-13: 9781476738635