Superior Book Productions

November 17, 2017

Disaster Island:
Bullies & Allies, Book I
James F. Johnson
Aviva Publishing (2017)
ISBN: 9781944335892

New Book Explores Young Teen’s Journey Into Abuse, Puberty, and PTSD

Disaster Island by James F. JohnsonJames F. Johnson’s debut novel Disaster Island is a roller coaster of wows as we watch thirteen-year-old Kyle Rickett spiral downward during the summer that will change his life forever. As the first novel in the Bullies & Allies trilogy, Disaster Island prepares the reader for a powerful journey as one boy copes with sexual abuse, family dysfunction, and gaslighting to the point where he isn’t sure who is his ally and who his friend.

The story opens when Kyle and his best friend Connor have an accident while riding their bikes. Kyle is wounded in his upper thigh and needs to have stitches. He objects to going to see the family doctor, Krieg, a friend of his father’s. Krieg used to be the leader of his Voyager Scouts troop when Kyle was younger, and once in the doctor’s office, he begins having flashbacks to scenes from several years earlier that caused him to leave the Voyager Scouts. His mother, however, insists that he go to the doctor, and while Krieg and the nurse clean and stitch up Kyle’s wound, his mother also stands by and does nothing when Krieg touches Kyle inappropriately.

Rather than protect her son, Kyle’s mother acts more like his enemy, beginning with banishing him from playing with his friend Connor any longer because she blames him for the bike accident. Kyle turns for understanding to his older brother who tends to be more absent than interested in helping him. Kyle’s sister is his friend one minute and enemy the next, saying things that are often untrue or overly cruel just to stir up trouble. Kyle has always felt closest to his oldest cousin, Scooter, and he looks forward to spending the Fourth of July with him, but he soon learns that even Scooter can’t help him.

One event after another causes Kyle to start to question himself, his identity, his role in his family, and whether anyone has his best interests at heart. What Kyle doesn’t know is that miles away, another young man is also struggling with trauma. Tucker Taylor is working at a suicide hotline, while trying to get back his life after the love of his life deserts him, following the death of their son. Tucker has not had an easy life either, and nor is his summer easy as several events also cause him nearly to spiral downward. But greater forces seem to be at work—something is pulling Kyle and Tucker together. The question is whether they will be pulled together in time to save each other.

James F. Johnson has created an incredible novel that really shows how dysfunction and abuse can lead to an identity crisis for a child and post-traumatic stress disorder that can cause him to go down the wrong path. While it may seem strange to say I enjoyed watching Kyle’s downward spiral, I was fascinated by how the effects of others’ behaviors caused him to lose control of who he is and question everything. On top of that, I greatly enjoyed the novel’s setting on a fictional island in Washington State and especially that it is set during the 1970s. Johnson has done his research, as well as lived through that decade, capturing the essence of what it was like to be a boy on the brink of puberty during those years. Most importantly, his message shows that bullying is nothing new in our society but has always been around, and he depicts the survival techniques Kyle is slowly developing to help him cope with others’ behaviors.

I’d like to say a lot more about this novel—it is far more detailed, complicated, and powerful than I’ve described it, but that would be giving away too much, so I’ll leave it for readers to explore it for themselves. I only promise them it’s a true tour-de-force of a story, and I can’t wait to read the two sequels, The Goat Driver and Puzzled. There’s even a preview at the end of the book for the second novel.

For more information about Jim Johnson, Disaster Island, and the Bullies & Allies series, visit

— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and award-winning author of Narrow Lives and The Best Place

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