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Klavan On The Culture

Phoenix Island: A Tough, Riveting YA Novel

April 9th, 2014 - 11:29 am

I haven’t seen the CBS-TV Show Intelligence — though Tripp Vinson, who produced the terrific Exorcism of Emily Rosehas a credit on it — but I just read the novel on which it’s based, John Dixon’s Phoenix Islandand it’s startling — startlingly tough, startlingly good. Young adult fiction is too often geared strictly to girls. Not a conspiracy, but more girls read and more women work as editors in the field. But this is the kind of hard, gritty man’s man story I really like. It’s uncompromising, exciting, well-written and smart.

By way of full disclosure, let me say that I only agreed to read it because I’ve met John and liked him…  and before I finished it, he sent me a blurb for my new YA series, MindWar. But my policy is: no matter who your friends are, the readers come first, and I don’t tell people to buy stuff unless I think it’s really worth the money.

This is. It’s very cool. John is a former Golden Gloves boxer (had I known this when we met, I would’ve been much nicer to him!) and his hero, Carl Freeman, is a boxer likewise. Carl has a bad habit of standing up for the little guy against bullies and so he keeps getting in trouble with the Zero Tolerance crowd, who coddle the evil doers and punish the heroes who fight back against them. After enough run-ins with the law, Carl gets sent to the youth facility on Phoenix Island: it’s outside U.S. waters so the military-style Drill Instructors can do anything they please. And it’s brutal.

That’s just the beginning though, and one of the things I liked best about this book is that John takes his time telling the story, building the characters, letting the situations play out to some very surprising twists. It reminded me of some of the classic adventure tales I love, and delivered some of the same kind of uplift and thrills.

Great action, strong characters, a hardboiled attitude and lots of excitement. Not the usual thing in YA Fiction. Good stuff. Buy it for your tough guy or girl here.

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