Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: Phoenix Island by John Dixon

Title: Phoenix Island
Author: John Dixon
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publish Date: January 7th, 2014

The judge told Carl that one day he'd have to decide exactly what kind of person he would become. But on Phoenix Island, the choice will be made for him.

A champion boxer with a sharp hook and a short temper, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. He can't seem to stay out of trouble, using his fists to defend weaker classmates from bullies. His latest incident sends his opponent to the emergency room, and now the court is sending Carl to the worst place on earth: Phoenix Island.

Classified as a terminal facility, it's the end of the line for delinquents who have no home, no family, and no future. Located somewhere far off the coast of the United States and immune to its laws, the island is a grueling Spartan-style boot camp run by sadistic drill sergeants who show no mercy to their young, orphan trainees. Sentenced to stay until his eighteenth birthday, Carl plans to play by the rules, so he makes friends with his wisecracking bunkmate, Ross, and a mysterious gray-eyed girl named Octavia. But he makes enemies, too, and after a few rough scrapes, he earns himself the nickname "Hollywood" as well as a string of punishments, including a brutal night in the sweatbox. But that's nothing compared to what awaits him in the Chop Shop: a secret government lab where Carl is given something he never dreamed of.

A new life. . . .

A new body. A new brain.

Gifts from the fatherly Old Man, who wants to transform Carl into something he's not sure he wants to become.

For this is no ordinary government project. Phoenix Island is ground zero for the future of combat intelligence.

And for Carl, it's just the beginning. . .

Phoenix Island by John Dixon is the terrifying story of what happens when sixteen year old boxing champion Carl Freeman gets sent away to a camp for juvenile delinquents. Unfortunately for him, the camp is run by a bunch of psychotic soldiers planning on taking over the world, and they'll do anything, including murdering the teenagers in their care, to accomplish their goals!

Phoenix Island reminds me of a movie I watched once, Boot Camp, with Mila Kunis and Gregory Smith. That movie has stuck with me since I watched it because of its sheer brutality. It's what made me have to read Phoenix Island after reading the synopsis. And Phoenix Island pulls no punches when it comes to brutality. The kids on Phoenix Island are abused and beaten and brainwashed to become killing machines. They are taught not to think and are threatened if they don't follow a command. They're threatened if they do follow a command. Phoenix Island is full of nothing but pain, torture, and injustice and it's really hard to read about at times. The novel is full of abuse and death and horrible acts of violence, and not one of the adults sees any of it as wrong. But that's what makes you have to keep reading. You have to see how these teenagers, these children, will survive when the whole world is against them.

Carl, despite being a fighter who is sent away to a reform camp for bad kids, is sort of the opposite of a bad kid. He's a kid who's had a hard life, a kid who could whine about how unfair it all is, but doesn't. A kid who's got enough training behind his punches to do all sorts of damage, but instead only uses his fists on bullies. He's a kid who only wants to help people, and he's sent to a place that only wants to hurt people. He's a true hero in a land of villains and someone you can root for.

Octavia surprised me in this novel. Usually the girls in these sorts of stories come across hard and bitter, but Octavia, for all her strength and courage, was never bitter or hard. Sure, she had times when she felt like she was slipping in that direction, but she never gave in. Never let her circumstances get her down. I loved that we got to see her point of view in this story. I wasn't expecting it, but I loved reading her chapters just as much as I loved Carl's.

There were many other side characters throughout Phoenix Island that I came to like, even love. There was Ross, Carl's friend who was more comedian than soldier. The older boy, Cambell, who was only in the book for a short time, but was a great friend and ally. Especially since they were in a place where allies were few and far between and sticking your neck out for someone else might just get it chopped off. Medicaid, a poor boy who was bullied to the brink of insanity. I felt so bad for poor Medicaid. He wasn't brave or strong or fierce, but he deserved to not be tormented the way he was. A lot of the focus in Phoenix Island is put on bullying and the effects it can have when left unchecked and it is severely disturbing. Medicaid's character was a great example of how bad bullying is and what can happen when adults look the other way.

Phoenix Island is actually the inspiration behind CBS's new hit drama Intelligence, starring that other guy who was once trapped on an island, Josh Holloway. Love him, but haven't seen the show yet. I've heard it's really great, but has been reworked so much that it has little to do with the novel anymore. I will be watching it at some point, just to see if anything from Phoenix Island remains in the series.

Inspirational, yet terrifying, Phoenix Island is not for the faint of heart. It's full of non-stop cruelty and violence from the very beginning. But, if you can stomach brutal beatings, torture, giant insects, shark attacks and many other things I won't be listing for fear of spoilers, then, at its heart, Phoenix Island is about a bunch of teenagers trying to survive an impossible situation and I highly recommend it.

For more about Phoenix Island check out these sites!


  1. I've really wanted to watch Boot Camp but never have gotten around too it! This book sounds so good! I'm definitely going to have to add this one to my TBR list! I've seen it around but I never really stopped what I was doing to read what it was about. Now that I have I'm excited to read it. Great review!!

  2. Great review Jesse! I don't know how you did it, this book sounds so upsetting.
    I wouldn't have made it past the first chapter.


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