Author: Andrew Smith
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Hardcover, 358 pages
Date Published: November 9, 2010
Description (Taken from Goodreads):
Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.
There is war in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys. Conner is there, too. But he’s trying to kill them.
Meanwhile, Jack is falling in love with an English girl, and afraid he’s losing his mind.
Conner tells Jack it’s going to be okay.
But, it’s not.
Andrew Smith has written his most beautiful and personal novel yet, as he explores the nightmarish outer limits of what trauma can do to our bodies and our minds.
Right off the bat, Jack gets kidnapped, but narrowly escapes. His best friend Conner wants to help him by getting back at Jack’s kidnapper, but things escalate from bad to worse. Jack and Conner attempt to carry on like all is well. They head to England as planned; Jack going a few days prior to Conner, and life appears to be okay. That is until Jack meets a man who gives him these glasses that show him another world. A world that is bleak and despairing, full of killing and death. Jack starts to lose himself in between our world and that of Marbury. The line between reality and fiction begins to blur with his every glance through the lens.
This is where things get confusing, for both Jack and me. While Smith’s writing is superb, with the stunning visuals of Marbury starkly contrasted with the real world of London, I was lost for the majority of the book. Lost in the sense that I knew what was happening, but I had no clue what it was adding up to. But I think that is exactly the point. Jack loses himself more and more and feels like he is going crazy, so that’s what the reader is supposed to feel.
Jack’s traumatic experience grips his psyche, messes with his mind, and seriously creeped me out. The real world and Marbury swirl together to show this nightmarish image of good and evil. It’s haunting, it’s eerie, it’s absolutely terrifying, but I couldn’t step away from it. I couldn’t guess what was going to happen next and when I did, I was so far off.
There’s been quite a bit of backlash surrounding this book, in regards to the language used and the character of Conner. See the thing is, the book is about a 16 year old teenage boy. This 16 year old and his best friend, well, they swear. Quite a bit. Then there’s this other thing they do, where Conner frequently calls Jack gay. Now, I’m no expert on teen boys, but my younger brothers are 16 and 14 and I know that they swear and I know that they call each other gay. And sure, calling someone gay as a joke isn’t the nicest thing, but it happens. So what if Conner calls Jack gay? That doesn’t make Andrew Smith or Conner homophobic. It makes the writing and the character more real and I’m cool with that. I like characters who I can actually imagine walking down the street.
The Marbury Lens is twisted and sadistic, morbid and dark, but it is powerful and elegant at the same time. Andrew Smith has unleashed a monster with this one and for those of you who love a story that will haunt you, this is the right book to pick up. Not only does it delve into the hellish land of Marbury, but also the brutal landscape of our own minds and our own world. Just keep in mind that it has many dark themes and is for an older YA audience. There’s swearing, there’s sex, and there are gory scenes of death, but none of it is gratuitous or done for the shock-factor. It's done because it's right, it fits with the plot and the imagery, and the tone – I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Opening line: I guess in the old days, in other places, boys like me usually ended up twisting and kicking in the empty air beneath gallows. ~ pg. 3
Favorite lines: Henry believed that Marbury was a world out of balance.
He needs to take a closer look at this one. ~ pg. 282
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