Woah. I already knew I loved Andrew Smith's books, but holy crap. THE MARBURY LENS mixes Smith's keen insight into growing up with a healthy dose of quantum physics and psychological terror.
THE MARBURY LENS tells the story of Jack, a sixteen year old boy from California who was born on the floor of his grandparents' kitchen after his mother got knocked up by her high school boyfriend. He was raised by his grandparents without ever truly connecting with them. The only person he ever really connected with is his best friend, Conner Kirk.
I've written before about the brilliant Best Friends that Andrew Smith writes, but Conner Kirk might very well be my favorite. I don't recall ever reading a character who did more for their best friend than Conner did for Jack.
Things go south for Jack when he's kidnapped by Freddie Horvath on his way home from a party. The scenes in Freddie's house, when Jack is being tortured (and worse), are some of the most chilling scenes I have ever read. The banality of his evil is haunting. Even his most innocuous comments left me afraid for Jack.
I don't think I've ever read such a nightmarish character. It was absolutely brilliant.
It's not giving anything away to say that Jack get's away. His encounter with Freddie is only the beginning. He never truly gets away. Andrew Smith captures the pain of a victim - and the strength of someone who refuses to be victimized - so perfectly in Jack, even as he struggles with guilt and the terrible feeling that he deserved it.
And then he goes to London, by himself at first, though Conner joins him after a few days. He meets a cute girl, Nickie, who brings him out of his shell, just a little bit. And he meets Henry Hewitt, who gives him a pair of glasses.
And that's where things really get interesting, as Jack begins traveling back and forth between our world and Marbury, a demented version of Earth where he's on the run (with friends Ben and Griffin) from a horde of crazed psychopaths - included a cannibalistic version of Conner.
Is Marbury another world - a demented layer of our own cosmic onion? Or is it all in Jack's mind?
That's the question at the heart of THE MARBURY LENS, and like all great books, it doesn't offer any easy answers. But it offered one hell of an ending.
After THE MARBURY LENS I also read KING OF MARBURY, the short story Andrew Smith wrote that takes place between THE MARBURY LENS and PASSENGER. It's told from Conner's point of view, and only reinforces the true, abiding friendship that Conner has for Jack. It was short and sweet and awesome.
I'm reading PASSENGER now and it's already taken me further down the rabbit hole. I don't know where I'll end up, but I am going to enjoy the ride.