Phoenix Island by John Dixon
Publication Date — January 21, 2014
The story that inspired CBS TV’s Intelligence. Phoenix Island was supposed to be a boot camp for troubled children. Carl Freeman, at 16, is a boxing champion. He’s also about to be sentenced by a judge … prison? It’s not his first time in front of the bench. He isn’t even sure how many times he’s been here before, but always for the same thing — defending someone from bullies. It gets him in trouble every time, but this time, it’s worse. No slap on the wrist. He’s going to a “terminal facility,” the toughest boot camp of them all: Phoenix Island. It’s a two-year sentence — or a life sentence. Sometimes, there’s a thin line between the two. When Carl realized Phoenix Island is actually a mercenary training camp designed to change orphans — kids with no attachments to the “outside world” — into deadly, conscienceless super soldiers, he decides to do whatever it takes to save the people he loves even at the cost of his own life.
The popular TV show Intelligence is based on this book. Since I’d never heard of or seen the show, I wasn’t swayed one way or the other. This is not the kind of book I usually read. Too much violence, too much intensity. Life is intense and I prefer my reading relaxing. But, I was intrigued and decided to give this one a go and I’m glad I did — mostly.
The book is much better than I expected. It just kept getting better from the beginning to the end, picking up speed and adding layers to the characters and the story. There are a lot of deaths and plenty of violence leading up to said deaths. And it’s not just physical violence. There is systematic torture, emotional and psychological abuse, starvation and bullying of the most horrible kind. You name it, it’s here. The audience for this book is supposed to young adults. Is this what we are giving our kids to read? Yikes.
There’s no sex at all, nor any rough language, but there is sufficient graphic violence for a dozen books. If I had read this when I was 16 , it would have given me nightmares for years. Parents and teachers might want to consider whether or not every kid is emotionally equipped to process graphic violence before recommending this book. I wouldn’t let my kid watch Pop-Eye cartoons because they were ugly and violent.
For those who can handle the imagery and still get a night’s sleep, it’s a gripping story. And a surprising one. Just when you think you know what is going to happen next, don’t stop reading. Something else will happen, something you probably didn’t see coming.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book — maybe its best part — is the presentation of evil as not entirely black versus white, but many shades of gray. That a person having the same character and personality might be worthy of kingship in one generation, but be incarcerated as a criminal in the next. That the same talents can be applied for good or evil, depending on circumstance, timing and luck. Good and evil are not absolutes, but are born (at least in part) from the popular attitudes of society at a given time and place.
If the general cruelty, ugliness and brutality of the story doesn’t bother you, you’re in for a good read. Taut and tense, the book starts off a bit slow and gathers momentum. Meet the giant spiders, the vicious pigs (human and four-legged), the bullies, the torturer, the power-mad-evil-genius, the baby assassins and don’t forget the hammerhead sharks. You may find your stomach heaving, but you won’t be bored.
The book is available in Kindle, hardcover and as an Audible.com download beginning tomorrow, January 21, 2014