The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends/Nov. 2010
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.
16 year old Jack was born on the floor of his grandparent’s house to a 17 year old mother that he’s barely seen or talked to since, except for grindingly awkward twice yearly phone conversations. Days away from a trip to England, along with the possibility of attending a boarding school called St. Atticus for his junior year, he attends a party at his best friend Connor’s and after getting quite drunk, attempts to walk home by himself. It’s then that he falls asleep on a park bench and is kidnapped by a doctor that offers him a ride home. Luckily, the creepy time spent with the doctor is fairly brief, and Jack manages to escape. He decides not to tell the police, only Connor, and Connor decides to make the doc pay, which they certainly do. So, it’s off to London and in the first few days of waiting for Connor to arrive, Jack is followed by a man with the strangest glasses, which soon fall into his hands. Of course, inevitably, he puts on the glasses, and is soon sucked into the world of Marbury.
Ahhh, Marbury… Marbury is a blasted wasteland where humans are few and far between and violence is not the exception. The boys are being followed by cannibals and droves of large black bugs called harvesters. Strangely, Jack knows who everyone else is in Marbury. It’s like he’s always been there. He immediately meets half-brothers Ben and Griffin and gets on to his now full-time job of survival. Meanwhile, back in London, life goes on. And therein lies the problem with Marbury. The first time Jack visits, no time has passed it the real world, but this begins to change, and as a result, while Jack is in Marbury, it’s evidently business as usual with Connor, but Jack can rarely remember things that have happened in the real world. To complicate things further, he meets a girl named Nickie who he just might be falling in love with.
Just like Jack is sucked into Marbury, I was sucked into Jack’s world. Poor Jack. He’s still haunted by his kidnapping (which may or may not tie into current events), and can’t understand why Marbury is such a pull for him. Even worse, he’s seen Connor on the other side, and he’s not the Connor he knows and loves. If you enjoy trips down the proverbial (and super scary) rabbit hole, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this one, although Marbury certainly is no Wonderland. Ghosts, cannibals, and constant danger are Marbury’s hallmarks, and the author doesn’t hold your hand, or pull any punches. Trust me on this one. There’s some gruesome stuff here, but it’s never gratuitous, and it’s always terrifying. Here’s how Jack describes Marbury:
“I was thinking, What if the world was like that? What if we only saw one surface of it, the outside, but there was all kinds of other stuff going on, too? All the time. Underneath. But we just don’t see it, even if we’re part of it? Even if we’re in it? And what if you had a chance to see a different layer, like flipping a channel or something? Would you want to look? Even if what you saw looked like hell? Or worse?”
Even though this is technically a YA novel, the only real thing that distinguished it from a non-YA is the age of the protagonists (I’d recommend this for older teens). I only had one quibble, and it’s the speed in which Jack falls for Nickie, but then kept reminding myself that that’s pretty much how things were as a teen, so it is what it is. Andrew Smith’s writing is tight and sure and he captures Jacks self-conscious angst perfectly. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Jack, and watching him slowly fold in on himself in fear is painful. It also hit me in a soft spot as the mom of a boy. I think my son got an extra helping of hugs while I read this book. If you love your modern fantasy with a healthy dose of horror, you’ll eat this one up in one sitting. I did.