Rachael Sherwood's Reviews > The Marbury Lens

The Marbury Lens by Andrew  Smith
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Nov 18, 11

bookshelves: 2011
Read from November 11 to 12, 2011

Came for the severed penises, stayed for the riveting exploration of PTSD.

I picked up this book because it was mentioned in one of those OMG THE CHLDRENZ articles about how Young Adult literature is too dark and violent and sexual. Since I'm writing a dark and violent and sexual YA story right now, I wanted to see how far I could push it.

The Marbury Lens does have a fair share of swearing, sexual content, and violent imagery. Way less than most teens are going to be exposed to naturally (or through other forms of media) but enough to scare the people who've forgotten that teenagers live in the same world as them. But for me, the surprising darkness of it was not in content, but in theme.

One quality of YA that I've seen as the most important aspects (besides having actual teenagers in the book) is that it tends to have a hopeful tone. Don't get me wrong, writers use YA books to explore some really really dark stuff, but there is a definite lack of the cynical "gritty" doom and gloom attitude that's common in adult books. I don't think that's a bad thing or a good thing, really. I think it reflects the age group, certainly. Teenagers are more resilient than adults in many ways, and their capacity for hope is great.

But the Marbury Lens, it's dark. Jack, a 16 year old American boy, gets to spend a few weeks abroad with his best friend Connor. Right before they leave, Jack gets too drunk and wanders into a park, sick. A doctor finds him and offers to take him to a hospital. But the doctor doesn't take him to a hospital, he kidnaps Jack and ties him up in his house and tries to rape him. Jack escapes and tells his friend Connor, and then something even more violent happens. Then Jack leaves for England. When he first arrives there, a stranger gives him a pair of purple glasses. When he puts them on, he's transported to Marbury, a place ravaged by war. When he's there, he's with two other boys who know him and he has memories of a different life. In the "real world", Jack struggles to connect with his friends and keep up his budding relationship with an English girl he meets. In Marbury, Jack fights for his life, and he can't keep the two separate. Although his relationship with Nickie is a hopeful light in his life, it's not enough to shut out the horrors of what happened to him.

It's funny, before I read this book I was just discussing with a friend (Lina, dat you!) about how dystopia is a weird genre because hello, we're already kind of living in a dystopia! You don't have to make it a fantasy/futuristic setting to find those kind of horrors. (I have more complex thoughts on this, I do really love dystopia, but that's a topic to discuss later). Anyway, the Marbury Lens is kind of an answer to that. Jack's attachment to the glasses and Marbury--part of the reason he keeps putting them back on and torturing himself in this hell is that Marbury is a place he can understand. The bad guys are clearly marked, there's action and help, and the good guys are somewhere to be found. In Marbury, everything is as it seems. To Jack, it's the real world that is the real horror. It's as dark as Marbury, but you can't tell.

There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in this book and I mostly enjoyed it until the end, which I found severely lacking. Then I found out there is going to be a sequel (arrggh so tired of series, please just write standalone books guys!!), so I'll refrain from commenting on that at this moment.

The only thing that really bothered me reading it were the constant gay jokes that Connor made. I know that's how teenage boys talk, and the protaganist did not share his "gay fears" and it was a way of dealing with male platonic love blah blah blah but in a book with a lot of male sexual predators, it kind of left me uncomfortable and wondering what exactly the author was going for, if anything at all. EDIT: Upon reflection and a nice dialogue with the author, I've decided that the book does have some nice exploration of the negative effects of homophobia and a good exploraiton of how society does or doesn't teach men to relate to their sexuality.
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