Phoenix Island is billed as young adult, but this cross-over debut novel is one for any reader who loves action, nuance, a character-driven plot (yes, in SPITE of all the action) and rooting for the underdog in the face of overwhelming odds.
Carl is the orphaned son of a police officer, a championship boxer who finds himself in a string of foster homes, moved from state to state, until, at 16, he once again beats up a gang of bullies and faces the end of the line - a stay until he is 18 years old - at Phoenix Island, a seemingly military-style boot camp for troubled teens.
Once Carl arrives at Phoenix Island, he finds that it is an isolated place outside of the United States, surrounded by a forest populated by wild pigs and shark-infested ocean waters. In spite of his resolution to remain "invisible" and to stay out of trouble, he manages to catch the ire of a particularly vicious "drill sergeant" named Parker as well as a group of gangbangers. Eventually, he runs across a secret journal written by a former teen "soldier" that makes him realize that the suffering he has experienced and seen done to others is only the tip of the iceberg.
If, as a reader, you think to yourself, "Well, thrillers and action aren't really my cup of tea", think again when it comes to this book. As I read, I experienced so many emotions - the enjoyment of a story well-told, agony at the unfairness of the situation Carl and his new friends find themselves in, knowing that some of the things portrayed really happen and not being able to hop into the pages to make it stop. Your heart will absolutely drop in places. When you meet the Old Man, Commander Stark, you want to like him, and blame everything else on some misunderstanding, just like Carl does, but as a reader, there is foreboding in these pages - you just know with a sinking, creeping feeling that all is not as it seems.
I fairly FLEW through these pages, filled with a moving motion picture in my brain of the island, the kids, the sergeants, the commander, and the mysterious doctor at the "Chop Shop". The book is totally engrossing, rolling along at a clip that had me looking at how many pages were left and regretting that I was so close to the end.
I've seen this one compared to Lord of the Flies and to The Hunger Games by some. For me it brought to mind the horrors of The Island of Dr. Moreau totally revamped with modern technology and world domination fanatics.
This is an absolutely stunning debut novel - one that would be a fabulous ride for almost every reader. With room left for a new installment, I sincerely hope to see more of Carl, his friends, and even creepy Commander Stark.
You are all orphans. Why had they taken only orphans? He thought of the kick he had received, the rough handling of Davis. He glanced around. Here they were, on Phoenix Island, somewhere outside of the United States and its laws.
We're as dead to the world as our parents, Carl thought. These people can do anything to us.
. . . teachers told you bullies were insecure and cowardly, and, sure, some were. But guys like Decker, guys who got that look in their eyes, were neither insecure nor cowardly, and they weren't acting out for attention. Guys like Decker were confident and tough and mean to the core, and they hurt people because they liked causing pain.
"He considers himself a musician of pain. A maestro. Pain is his piano, and the victim's nerves are his piano strings."
Great, Carl thought. I threatened to break his nose.
BLOGGERS: Have you reviewed this book? If so, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section; I will also add your link to the body of my review.
Writing: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Plot: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Characters: 5 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 5 out 5 stars
BOOK RATING: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Sensitive Reader: Probably not for you; portrayals of violence and implied violence.
Book Club Recommendation: Yes; depending on whether all book club members can take a grim and gritty portrayal of a camp filled with teens subject to horrid conditionsshow more
by Julie Smith