Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: The Marbury Lens

Jack was just a normal kid on the cusp of summer vacation when he winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time and is kidnapped. Through sheer will and determination, Jack escapes, and with the help (or hindrance) of his best friend Conner, they inadvertently kill his kidnapper. They put it behind them when they head off to London for their summer vacation, ready to enjoy drinking and no parental supervision. But things go wrong when Jack meets Henry Hewitt, who gives him a pair of glasses that allow him to glimpse a world just beyond their own: Marbury. Jack begins to question his sanity. What's real, London or Marbury? Conner or Griffin and Ben? Nikkie or the war?

Let's just start this review off with: wow. I've always been interested in fantasies that dabble in the idea that, "Hey, this might not be as real as we think it is." Part fantasy, part psychological thriller, Andrew Smith takes the reader through three stories: the story of Jack, the story of Seth, and the story of Marbury. Because of this, sometimes it feels like the pace is lacking. Just as it picks up in one storyline, we move to another and we lose most of the dramatic tension. I didn't mind this while reading and it was only about 3/4 of the way through the book that I was beginning to grow a little frustrated. I wanted to shake Jack and tell him to get over his moping and get back to Marbury, but that is probably just my interpretation.

Smith's characters have a quiet way of coming alive. I think the greatest thing about this book is the relationship between Jack and Conner, and to a lesser degree, Jack and Ben and Griffin. Even though Jack is a cynical character, he gains a lot of sympathy through his relationship with Conner. Their contrasting personalities really complement each other, and my favorite parts of the book were when they were interacting in some way.

Smith's writing style is blunt, to say the least. If you're a big fan of description and flowery writing, this may not be your cup of tea. Though since Jack appears to be more of an unobservant character, this is possibly a reflection of how he views the world. The repetition of phrases that Jack uses doesn't become stale, but in fact really shows how Jack copes with all the things that are happening to him. You'd think after four hundred pages of "Freddie Horvath did something to my brain and I need to get help" it would be obnoxious, but somehow he managed to make it tolerable.

I think the only thing I had a huge problem with was his resolution. I promise I will be as spoiler-free as possible while I'm talking about this. Seth's story came to a close that I really enjoyed. The Marbury storyline did come to a close, but not in a way that really felt finished to me. And Jack's storyline was completely unfinished. Throughout most of the book, he struggled with the differences between Marbury and the real world and the fact that he really couldn't have both. Despite this, at the end of the story he doesn't seem to have any answers. It felt like his story could have gone on forever as it was, with his struggling, going back and forth and getting sicker and sicker, alienating more and more people in the process. I felt like, since his entire story was chaotic, he needed a more definitive end to put things back into balance.

Regardless, the Marbury Lens was a fascinating read, and I recommend it to anyone who has a bit of a tougher stomach. It's definitely a "boy book" so if there are any guy readers who have a hard time with YA, introduce them to Jack's world of chaos and mystic. They won't be disappointed.

Overall: 4/5 stars.

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