Friday, February 11, 2011

Review of The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

Smith, Andrew. The Marbury Lens. Feiwel and Friends, 2010.

16-year-old Jack is kidnapped by a psychopath but is almost miraculously able to free himself. Rather than tell anyone (like, say, the police), he and his best friend Conner try to take revenge on the creep themselves, but things go horribly wrong.

And then - off Jack flies to London for a long-planned trip. Already eaten up with almost unbearable feelings of anguish about what happened, he can barely function and is worried he's going crazy. And that's before he is given a pair of glasses that takes him to a nightmarish alternate world called Marbury, where he is desperately trying to save himself and two younger boys from hordes of cannibalistic plague-ridden ex-humans called Hunters. Bouncing between London and Marbury is disorienting enough, but there's also a ghost called Seth, a pretty girl named Nickie, and Jack's intense feelings about that kidnapping and its aftermath to contend with. And then Conner arrives in London, and suddenly everything gets even more complicated.

This is one grim, gripping story. Jack is a normal teen, awkward, occasionally crude, but mostly a good person - and the stuff that happens to him is just way out of whack. The only thing that makes this book bearable to read (besides being well-written and addictively suspenseful, that is) is Jack's budding relationship with Nickie. She is too good to be true and never quite comes fully to life, but she provides some much needed relief to Jack and to the reader. And the relationship between Jack and Conner, though often strained by the situation, is vivid and realistic.

Marbury is a bleak desert full of hideously defiled bodies and utterly depraved creatures who are bent on destroying every last shred of humanity. I was reminded of lots of different films and books - The Terminator, with its scenes of a future in which humans are desperately fighting a losing war against robots, and McCarthy's The Road, with a future full of starving humans raping and eating each other, and Terry Brooks' Demon Series, in which a man is constantly bombarded with visions of what the world will become if evil wins out over good.

This is a complicated story, with many different interpretations and unanswered questions. What is Marbury, and why do some people experience that world and this one? The answer seems to have to do with the trauma Jack underwent with the kidnapper - but again, it's not clear. The end of the book is as fraught with tension and uncertainty as anything that happened before, so if you don't like stories without clear resolutions, don't read this book. But if gut-wrenching situations and ambiguous but taut plots are your cup of tea, the Marbury Lens is for you.

There are sexual situations (explicit though far from hardcore) and plenty of gruesome violence. Recommended for unsqueamish readers ages 14 and up.

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