I recently finished reading The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, and I loved it.
I'm not going to deal with plot details here...go read the book for that. Trust me, you won't be sorry.
First of all, I don't write YA literature (usually), but since I have three teenagers, I do read my share of it. I like to read what my kids read, and we like to talk about what we read. It's kind of like having a built-in reading group.
The Marbury Lens is twisted, and compelling, and heart-breaking, but most of all it made me think. Despite Jack's straightforward matter-of-fact voice, the story isn't laid out in black and white. It's not wrapped up in a neat package, all the plots and sub-plots resolved. No happy ending here. In fact, there's not much of an ending at all, but that didn't bother me because it works with this story. In short: the book is not easy.
The story follows Jack on his complicated journey through psychological trauma and his vulnerable, tender, desperate attempts to make sense of the dissociative worlds he finds himself in. I won't even pretend that I understood it all, and I suspect that it'll mean something different to each person who reads it, which is actually pretty high praise for Smith. What author doesn't want readers to take their work personally, for it to get under their skin?
I know I'll have to read this book again, and then maybe again, and even then I may not "get it," but that's the beauty of it. I didn't care that it was difficult or complicated, because Smith makes readers work, makes them become invested in the story and provide their own answers to all the open-ended questions. Because in the end, there are no easy answers in life, especially for teenagers, (or anybody, for that matter). We all struggle with our demons, trying to figure out how to tame them and fit them into our lives.
Now the big question, would I let my kids read it? The book contains some uncomfortable graphic situations, and some grim post-apocalyptic visions, not to mention the complex PTSD issues. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend it to my 18-year-old son. Because the story isn't typical of what my 13-year-old daughter would read anyway, I doubt she'd even be interested in it, even if I did recommend it to her. But, in the end, I probably wouldn't. Knowing her as I do, I don't think she'd be able to process it. And I wouldn't let my 12-year-old read it because, again, knowing him, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't understand it well enough to even know what questions to ask, and I just don't think he's ready to deal with some of the imagery. It's one thing to warn your children against the Freddie Horvaths of the world, it's another for them to read the gruesome details about what can happen at the hands of people like Freddie.
I do, however, wholeheartedly recommend the book to anyone over, say, 15 or 16 years old, and especially adults. It's a remarkably well told tale, and certainly worth reading.
Now I look forward to Smith's next novel, Stick.