This book could have been amazing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I started reading this book in a darkened bus, but Andrew Smith really pulls off a dark, horrific atmosphere. The awesome creepiness and the compelling story make this a hard book to put down.
So much potential. And yet, Smith doesn't seem to have any idea where he was going with this story.
The Marbury Lens combines a lot of elements: a traumatic kidnapping and near-rape experience; a trip to England plus romance; unexplained crossover into a rotting world called Marbury that resembles a Western gone to hell; a ghost named Seth who has a mysterious connection to the main character. All of these are intriguing elements, but they never seem to fit together. It's like they were all thrown in to create either tension, drama, or mystery, but really, half of these elements had absolutely no place in the story.
Consider this gem of a scene: After escaping from Freddy Horvath, the man who kidnapped and tried to rape him, Jack is on a plane to England. The man sitting next to him begins to flirt with him, and when Jack wakes up from a nap, he catches the guy massaging his leg. The flight attendant notices and moves Jack to a different seat. The creepy guy from the plane is never seen again. Exactly what was the point of including that? Unless the author has some sort of anti-gay agenda. Which, to be honest, I'm not convinced he doesn't.
While we're on the subject of sex and romance, I should probably bring up Nicki, the requisite love interest. She's gorgeous, English, and for some inexplicable reason, totally in love with Jack. She has a friend, Rachel, and a brother. If there were any other characterizing details about her in the story, I must have forgotten them. From what I can tell, she exists for no reason other than to provide Jack with sex and moral support. The shallowness of their romance is especially surprising when you look at the depth of Jack's other relationships in the book. I'm referring to his friendship with Conner, and his protectiveness of Ben and Griffin, the two boys traveling with him in Marbury. Even Henry Hewitt, the mysterious guy who gives Jack the glasses that transport him to Marbury, has a more compelling relationship to Jack than Nicki does.
It makes me sad when a book with so much promise goes to waste. I would love to find something like this that was actually well-constructed.