Published: January 7th, 2014
Publisher: Gallery Books
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.
Young boxer Carl finds himself on a prison island for orphans, where he is groomed to be the governor's protégé - for the rest of the story, I couldn't say it better than the blurb above. Phoenix Island is a violent book, illustrating the absolute violence and depravity that is within some people - bullies to the core - and it made me vaguely uncomfortable. I guess that means it was well written. I certainly got the fidgets while reading it and several times I was tempted to stop, but I soldiered on - pardon the pun. I think one of the things that disturbed me most was the fact that it was entirely plausible - extremely unlikely, but plausible. Or maybe I've just been watching too much TV!
It was hard to like any of the characters, Although Carl has a good heart, I couldn't help thinking that he never considered any options but his fists. He was trying to solve problems by doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. But, then I've never been a fan of fighting to solve problems. I've always preferred using words, which is perhaps why I'm not entirely sure that I liked this book. Octavia seemed a little like a token love interest to me, but she did serve to bring Carl's protective instincts to the fore.
While not a huge hit with me personally it is definitely a great book for boys and those who enjoy combat games. It's full of boxing terms and macho bragging teen boys, so I'm not sure about its appeal for girls, but I will be recommending it to several of the young men who visit the library.
I did hear that the TV show Intelligence is based on this book, but I have to add it is very loosely based on it, so if you've watched the show and are expecting more of the same, you will be sadly disappointed. I also just found out that my feelings of plausibility are not so far off the mark - check out this interview with John Dixon. where he talks about his inspiration for the book.