Khanh the Killjoy

Pretty awesome

Phoenix Island - John  Dixon

Actual rating: 3.5

They can shoot me through the bars of this sweatbox or hang me from the flagpole or throw me to the sharks, but they cannot make me cry or beg. I will not show them weakness. I will stay strong. If they kill me, they will remember my strength; I will force them to live with the memory of my strength forever.
And if I live, I will escape from Phoenix Island, and I will tell the world. I will bring these people down.

There is no room for pussies on Phoenix Island.

This book is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies meets Island of Dr. Moreau meets Battle Royale. It's got a bunch of juvenile delinquents, it's got a lot of fighting, a lot of underlying tension that comes with throwing a bunch of kids together. Tthere is a mad scientists doing ungodly things to the human body, battles for survival, duels to the death in a hostile, swampy Florida . This book is not for everyone, I would recommend it to younger men. It is light on the romance, but the existence of romance at all serves to discombobulate me because it truly had no role at all here.

There is a lot of physical violence and a lot of torture. It left me very uncomfortable and in pain for the main character---which surprised me a bit, because I usually love violence and blood and guts. It is the equivalent of seeing your favorite character get beaten to a bloody pulp; you cannot help feeling tormented on their behalf. The violence was spectacularly done, it is bloody, it is painful, and it agonized me as I was reading about it. More than once, I just wanted to jump into the middle of the book and shield the main character from the pain he was experiencing.

The baton crackled, and two needles of energy plunged into Carl’s forearm. Electricity coursed through him and locked his muscles rigid, filling him with sparking, yellow pain. Parker grinned through his anger. “Not bad for the first one.”
The first one...And then the horror of it dawned on him; Parker had no intention of stopping no matter what Carl did. He was going to keep shocking Carl until Carl couldn’t take it anymore.

I wouldn't feel so defensive about the main character if I didn't like him. I absolutely loved Carl. This book does such an amazing job of building up believable, imperfect, sympathetic characters. All of the teenagers in this book are juvenile delinquents, thieves, murderers. The psychological profiles of the kids in this book were spectacularly well done and absolutely believable.

The Summary: Carl is a good kid, who's gotten into one too many fights. Like many juvenile delinquents, it's not entirely his fault, Carl's troubled youth is a matter of circumstance. Some people were born with silver spoons in their mouths, Carl is not one of them. His mother, dead of cancer. His father, a dead policeman. He is an orphan. Nobody cares about him, so Carl cares for others---too much. A champion boxer, Carl has an innate sense of justice that has him beating up bullies, and this last battle is the last straw for him in the juvenile deliquency system. Carl has only one option: Phoenix Island, a juvenile boot camp until he reaches 18, after which his name will be cleared, and he will be free to live out his dream to be a police officer---or a North Carolina jail, to which there will be no escape.

He has no choice, Carl is sent to Phoenix Island with a load of other juvenile delinquents. It soon becomes obvious that they are all orphans.

You are all orphans. Why had they taken only orphans? He thought of the kick he had received, the rough handling of Davis. 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.

They are very much outside of US laws. The boot camp is run military-style, but there is an endless routine of beating and torture that would not have been tolerated in an ordinary boot camp. Carl tolerates it just fine. He is in good shape, he just wants to stay under the radar and ride out his time until he is 18 to earn his release, but it is not to be. Amidst the beating, the daily physical and emotional pain, Carl discovers something, a diary that a former inmate has left behind. A diary that hints that there is something more to Phoenix Island than just the boot camp it supposedly is. That Carl's sentence was possibly planned.

That made no sense.
Unless . . .
Odd misgivings warbled through him.
Something weird was going on. Really weird. Bad weird.
The date suggested that whoever wrote this was either psychic or had been planning his placements months in advance...

Nothing comes of his misgivings until the day a particularly sadistic guard decides he wants to play a game of electrocution with Carl's body. Carl is tortured to the point of breaking. Then he snaps. Then all hell breaks loose. Carl thought he was going to die, but that's just the beginning. He meets a strange man; it is yet to be seen whether he is a savior or a madman. Maybe both, depending on the context.

“If Dr. Vispera had been born in London or Detroit, he would no doubt have risen through the ranks of respected physicians and scientists and established himself in more conventional ways. Unfortunately for him—and even less fortunately for his symphony of victims—he was born in place that valued power over science. Sometimes, the only difference between a Nobel Prize winner and a war criminal is geography. Do you understand?”

Like a phoenix, Carl rises, bigger, stronger. Whether his future will be better is yet to be seen.

The Setting: A subtropical, swampy island. Danger lies everywhere. There are bird-eating spiders. There are sharks. There is no escape.

“That jungle will eat you alive. Bad things live out there. Bad, bad things. This fence right here? It’s not to keep you in. It’s to keep them out. You go AWOL here, it’s a death sentence.”

The jungle is even more hostile than the people residing on it.

The Characters: The author does a remarkable job of giving us psychological insights within the minds of the characters in the books. Juvenile delinquents they may be, but simple, they are not. It takes a hard life to create a juvenile offender. It takes a rough upbringing to create a sociopath and a bully, whether adult or child. Teenaged delinquents learn early on to be manipulators, to play the system, to play the people.

Girls like Rice, though, didn’t even think about the outside. They had turned inward, had become truly institutionalized. They didn’t get scared; they got interested. They didn’t look for a way out; they looked for ways to manipulate the system, ways to push buttons. There was no reforming them—and certainly not by shouting.

It offers a tremendous amount of insights into bullies, their enjoyment of inflicting torture.

Decker just kept staring, a terrible amusement playing across his face. It was a cold humor Carl had seen in other bullies. The toughest ones. The ones with real confidence. Counselors and 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 just 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.

That is not to say that all of the kids in this book are bad. There are kids who simply were born under a bad sign, the result of a system that failed them. Kids who truly want to do well, but somehow keep ending up in trouble through sheer bad luck. Kids who just want to get better, to start their life over on a clean slate.

Carl is one of the most sympathetic main characters I have encountered in a novel. He is such a good kid, well-meaning at heart, with aspirations to be a future police officer. In a normal family, he might have had a brilliant future. As an orphan, he is shit out of luck. Carl is brave, he stands up for the underdog, he suppresses his pain, he braves things through. He has bad impulses, but he knows better. He feels the urge to do something stupidly brave in the defense of a friend, but he pushes it down, knowing it will get him into trouble, but hating himself for it. He is tortured, he is kind, he is human, and I loved him, for the most part. Carl has such self-awareness.

And all these years, that’s what Carl thought he’d been doing: keeping his promise to his father. Standing up for the weak.
But he’d been fooling himself.
Carl’s historical pattern of self-destruction did point toward a deep personal weakness—all those fights, all those placements, all the trouble he’d gotten himself into here..always a bully, always a victim, always Carl stepping into the middle.
But Carl’s weakness wasn’t his need to help the victims. His weakness was his need to destroy the bullies.
He’d been fighting not out of love but hatred.

Which brings me to where Carl lost my sympathy. And it is so predictable.

The Romance: Yep. Carl pretty much had my eye rolling into the back of my head when he falls into insta-love with the beautiful girl, the sad-looking girl, with gray eyes and a fucking white streak in her hair.She looked frightened and stunned and exhausted, yet still beautiful, with sad-looking eyes the color of wet gravel and long hair as dark as his mother’s had been, though a patch of pure white marked her bangs. White hair. And her, what? Sixteen?For fuck's sakes, give me a fucking break. It is a correctional facitity. A military-style boot camp where kids are duking it out to the death. And you still have the fucking time to make googly eyes at each other and hang out with each other when you are constantly being fucking monitored?

The hints of absolute unnecessary romance and how that insta-love preyed on Carl's mind and make stupid decisions decreased my enjoyment in this book.