Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Island of Secrets

Orphans with potential will still be lost in the system. Their potential turns from something good to something that could lead them down a path of crime. When one man develops a network to funnel those delinquent orphans through the system directly to his island, he changes the fate of these children forever. John Dixon's Phoenix Island is a no-nonsense story about who we are inside... and who we are fated to be. 

Carl Freeman lost his parents and became an orphan. Stability is a figment of his imagination as he is bounced from foster family to foster family and state to state. He tries to stay out of trouble and keep to himself, but he has a weakness for bullies. When he sees a bunch of kids going too far, he can't help but step in and do something. Of course the bullies were the sons of very connected people, so boxing champ Carl is deemed the villain in that story. When the judge sends him to Phoenix Island, Carl chooses to see this as an opportunity rather than a punishment. If he keeps his head down and does his time, he will be released with an expunged record by the time he is 18. This is the first big break Carl has ever received and he intends to take it seriously. 

Phoenix Island is nothing like he expected. Sure, there are other delinquents like himself, but the guards are not interested in just making sure everyone follows the rules. They are soldiers. And sadistic. In addition, they have picked some favorites out of the group to act as their long reaching arms into the ranks of the orphans. The boys chosen for that detail are exactly like the kids Carl beat up to get put here. It will be hard enough to keep his head down, but when Carl starts to suspect there is something deeper and darker than just vindictive guards, he struggles with his inner conscience. His weakness has always been that he cared about the people around him. At least that is what the system led him to believe. But in reality? Has it made him stronger than the bullies around him?

Phoenix Island looked like a "boy book" and truly turned out to be a boy book. If it was a movie, a 16 yr old Sylvester Stallone would play Carl. He would wear a dirty white tank top and fatigues and run around the island all sweaty and dirty. I am not criticizing this. Honestly? I watch the Rambo series all the time (more than I care to admit). But there is a particular audience for this kind of story. If you have a reader who loves those violent action flicks (I know I do!) with explosions and bad guys and the lone good guy trying to save the world one innocent life at a time, here be your tale. And it was done pretty well, albeit a little formulaic. I really didn't have to predict much about the layout of the plot because it happened just as you would think it would. Again, that isn't to say I didn't like it, because it was certainly enjoyable, but I would have loved a surprise every now and then. 

The real winner in this story is Carl. He is truly unwavering in his goodness. Carl actually cannot control himself when it comes to protecting the innocent, even when he knows it will totally and completely ruin his life. He is the epitome of unwavering good guy. A little unrealistic, but it makes for an entertaining story! He is the kind of good guy you can't help but root for and hope he pummels the crap out of the bad guys. I have to say, the fact that he is always in trouble for stopping bullying is my favorite part of the story (and the saddest reflection of humanity). Phoenix Island is an entertaining, kind of predictable story that will certainly appeal to those hard-to-reach boys. 

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