Review originally posted here
.Why I Read It:
This book was first put on my radar when this
review popped up two years ago. Yes, there was some major Bad Author Behaviour going on in the comments, but it was mostly ANOTHER author, not Andrew Smith who was being Not Cool. Anyway, Erika, the reviewer, wasn't crazy about the book, but I thought it sounded kind of intriguing. Then my brother went and bought it, so I figured I may as well read it. Spoilers ahead, so read with caution!
This book was... strange. And unfortunately, not really in the good way. It had a lot of potential, but I didn't feel like Smith went the extra mile to actually make this novel great (but of course this is a personal opinion -- your mileage may vary.)
The beginning of the novel felt promising. I liked Jack's voice and there was obvious creepy feeling permeating the text. But then it kind of went downhill when Jack gets kidnapped. All of sudden, it felt like Smith was trying to pile all these "heavy issues" into too small a page-count, which made it feel bloated and contrived. In the first fifty-pages alone, readers are subjected to the following:
1. Teens swearing, drinking, and doing drugs
2. Jack witnessing his best friend Connor having sex (reverse cowgirl style no less) and is invited to join in.
3. Jack being kidnapped.
4. Jack being sexually molested.
Now, I don't have a problem with any of these things being present in the text. Teenagers swear, and have sex, and threesomes, and get kidnapped, and get sexually molested (sadly). But in the first fifty pages? At that point it started to feel gratuitous. And then, in the next couple of dozen of pages, Jack and Connor KILL Jack's kidnapper (by accident). It was a bizarre reading experience.
For the rest of the novel, Jack and Connor are in England and that's when the fantasy aspects of the novel come in. Jack is given these magical glasses from a random guy who follows him around for awhile, and when he puts them on, he's brought to a world that's some weird post-apocalyptic version of Earth called Marbury. He's already with a group of people who all know who he is (including weird stalker dude, who is dead in Marbury, so he isn't brought there when he puts the glasses on), and Jack has lived a whole other life in Marbury. So when he first enters Marbury, it's basically in media res, meaning neither he, nor the reader, have any idea what's happened before hand. Jack takes in stride, but it left me frustrated.
The whole idea of Marbury frustrated me actually. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't need everything explained to me (I've read and enjoyed Elizabeth Bear for crying out loud), but sometimes some things just need SOME kind of explanation or development for me to care. Marbury was one them. At first I thought that Marbury was maybe just a way to represent Jack coping with his trauma at having been kidnapped and molested; in the real world, he feels he has no control and that's he powerless, but in Marbury people depend on him and he takes of others. His addiction to Marbury could've been some kind of metaphor to addiction, which is an avenue a lot of people take when dealing with trauma. But there are too many things that happen in the text that undermine this less-than-literal reading of the text; characters perceive things as Jack perceives them, eliminating the theory that most of what he's experiencing is a delusion or only in his head. This actually lessened the reading experience for me. I was kind of hoping for something like the movie Pan's Labyrinth
, which I thought toed the line between fantasy and reality perfectly, but alas, it didn't.
The love angle in the book was quite laughable. Nikki is a girl that Jack meets while in England and after knowing her for less than two weeks, the two are avowing their love for each other. Gag gag gag. Connor also meets Nikkie's friend Rachel and they are avowing (though to a lesser extent than Jack and Nikki) their love for each other. Gag gag gag. Also, I was annoyed at the scene where Nikki basically breaks up with Jack because he's cray cray and all he has to do is beg and give her the puppy the eyes and she jumps right back into bed with him. *sigh* Essentially, the females in this book are throwaway characters and were boriiinnngg.
Another thing that grated on me was the writing. Like I said before, I thought that Jack's voice (he's the first-person narrator) was pretty good, but then it devolves into annoying repetition. I swear to God, if I had to read "Fuck off, Jack." one more time I was going to throw my book across the room. I understand that the repetition was to emphasize Jack's trauma and self-blame, but it loses its impact when it's used so often.
The last thing I want to mention (which was a huge point of contention in the review I linked above), is how the issue of homosexuality was treated. I don't want to elaborate too much because I can't provide any examples from the text (I don't have the book with me because I'm out of town as I write this), but I'll leave it at this: it made me uncomfortable. I understand that teenage boys talk and behave like this, but the text doesn't really seem to challenge these perceptions directly or indirectly. I am NOT saying that Andrew Smith is homophobic; I am just stating how these depictions of homosexuality and how it was dealt with made ME feel. I'll probably revise this bit of this review at a later date with specific examples of what made me uncomfortable.Final Verdict:
This book was promising, but for me, it didn't deliver. I appreciate that the book tackled difficult subjects, but it tackled SO MANY in so little page-time that it felt too jam-packed for me and lessened the impact it could have had. The fantasy elements of the novel felt underdeveloped to me, and what could have been a cool story that blurred the line between fantasy and reality, was reduced to just messed-up fantasy that ended feeling more shallow and boring to me (not to mention that I had idea why some elements were thrown in, such as the ghost that followed Jack around). The narrative voice felt like it captured the teen boy experience really well, but it became very repetitive and annoying after awhile. The female characters were all throwaways, which was disappointing to say the least, and the love angle of the story severely lacking. All in all, it was a disappointing read for me, and I doubt I'll be checking out the sequel.