The Marbury Lens

The Marbury Lens

by Andrew Smith
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The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

A 16-year-old boy who escapes a kidnapper thinks he can forget his trauma, but instead, he loses his grip on reality and believes he's part of an alternate world called Marbury.

Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.

There is war in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys. Conner is there, too. But he's trying to kill them.

Meanwhile, Jack is falling in love with an English girl, and afraid he's losing his mind.

Andrew Smith has written his most beautiful and personal novel yet, as he explores the nightmarish outer limits of what trauma can do to our bodies and our minds.

“An engrossing horror/fantasy hybrid…Nightmarish imagery is chillingly effective, and the pacing superbly builds suspense.” — Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250010278
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 333,505
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Andrew Smith is the author of Ghost Medicine, named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, and In the Path of Falling Objects. In addition to writing, he teaches high school advanced placement classes and coaches rugby. He lives in Southern California with his family, in a rural location in the mountains.

Read an Excerpt

The Marbury Lens

By Andrew Smith

Feiwel and Friends

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4191-4


I am going to build something big for you.

It's like one of those Russian dolls that you open up, and open up again. And each layer becomes something else.

On the outside is the universe, painted dark purple, decorated with planets and comets, stars. Then you open it, and you see the Earth, and when that comes apart, there's Marbury, a place that's kind of like here, except none of the horrible things in Marbury are invisible. They're painted right there on the surface where you can plainly see them.

The next layer is Henry Hewitt, the man with the glasses, and when you twist him in half, there's my best friend, Conner Kirk, painted to look like some kind of Hindu god, arms like snakes, shirtless, radiant.

When you open him up, you'll find Nickie Stromberg, the most beautiful girl I've ever seen, and maybe the only person in this world, besides Conner, who ever really loved me.

Now it's getting smaller, and inside is Freddie Horvath. That's the man who kidnapped me.

Next, there's the pale form of the boy, Seth, a ghost from Marbury who found me, and helped me. I guess he was looking for me for a long time. And the last thing on the inside is me. John Wynn Whitmore.

They call me Jack.

But then I open up, too, and what you'll find there is something small and black and shriveled.

The center of the universe.

Fun game, wasn't it?

I don't know if the things I see and what I do in Marbury are in the future or from the past. Maybe everything's really happening at the same time. But I do know that once I started going to Marbury, I couldn't stop myself. I know it sounds crazy, but Marbury began to feel safer, at least more predictable, than the here and now.

I need to explain.



Everything smells like cigarettes.

The stink helps me get my head focused so I can will my eyes open. I don't know where I am, but I can tell there are cigarettes. The smoke turns my stomach, but at least it is something I can connect to — like an anchor, I guess, and it keeps my head from floating away again.

I want to move.

My arms are telephone poles.

I'm lying on my back, right?

Wasn't I supposed to be leaving soon?

My eyes are open. I am sure I felt the paste between the lids giving way, but it's like trying to see in a swimming pool. A yellow and gray swimming pool, where I can make out the shape of a window and the outline of Freddie Horvath standing there.


I fall to sleep again.

My whole first day is like this.

Five seconds long.


Let me back up a bit.

I lived in my grandparents' house then. Wynn and Stella. I guess it's kind of a stupid thing to say, because I'd never lived anywhere else.

It was one of the biggest houses in Glenbrook. Wynn built it when my mother was just a kid. It sat on over four hundred acres of some of the best grape-growing land in Central California, and that's how Wynn and Stella made all their money.

I was born on the kitchen floor.

Stella said I couldn't wait to get here. That's why I came out between my mother's blood-spattered feet, right on Wynn and Stella's nice wood kitchen floor, while Amy leaned over the breakfast table grunting, her legs locked in the only contraction she'd had.

She was seventeen.

I've only seen her one time that I can remember, and I always dreaded the two times per year I'd feel forced to say awkward hellos by telephone.

Sometimes, okay, a lot of times, I'd stare at that spot on the floor — Stella drew imaginary circles around it with her fingers whenever she'd retell the story — and I'd wish that Amy had been standing at the top of a ladder or something so Little Jack would have hit his head just hard enough that he'd never know any world could ever exist outside the lukewarm nothing of the amnesiac womb.

It was the first weekend of summer, and just about everyone I knew was going to be at Conner Kirk's house getting drunk that night to celebrate twelve weeks with no school. Of course, I was going to be there, too. That's what kids do.

But mostly all I cared about was getting away. Wynn and Stella promised to send me to England for two weeks, and my flight was in just five more days. Wynn decided he wanted me to visit his old school — a "grammar school" in Kent — to take a tour. He told me if I liked it enough, he'd send me there for my junior year. And I already knew I'd like it enough, that there was something itching inside that made me want to get as far away as possible from that invisible circle on the kitchen floor. Conner was going to come, too. His parents had enough money that they made the same offer to Conner about attending St. Atticus. If we both liked it. So it was like this fantastic opportunity for me and my best friend to do something together we'd probably never get a chance to do again.

I could say it was going to be the trip of a lifetime, but that's just because I can't clearly remember what it was like slipping around naked and wet, gasping for my first breaths on the kitchen floor while Amy screamed and cursed, "The goddamned baby! The goddamned baby!" At least, that's how I always imagined it happened.

In the end, Conner and I both ended up getting more than we bargained for there, I guess.

But that one Saturday morning at the start of the summer when I woke up, things felt changed — different. It was already so hot, and I could tell it was going to be the most hellacious boring and long day. I got right up from bed and looked out the window like I always do, snaked into a T-shirt and basketball shorts, grabbed an armload of extra clothes so I could spend a night or two at Conner's, and I didn't even say much more than hey to Stella or Wynn as I passed them in the kitchen.

I'm not exactly certain what made me such a loner around them. It wasn't that I hated Wynn and Stella, but I think I probably expected them to abandon me, too, so I made it as easy as possible for them to assume I wasn't even there.

"I'm going to be at Conner's till Monday. His parents are gone for the weekend."

Wynn nudged his glasses higher and looked me over. It made me feel like I'd forgotten to get dressed or something. I squeezed the bundle of clothes tighter under my arm.

"He could stay here if he wants," Wynn said.

Oh, yeah. That would be real fun, Wynn.

I shrugged. "I have my phone."

Stella said, "Have a nice time. We love you, Jack."

"See you Monday sometime."

I pushed the screen door open and walked across the wet lawn to my truck, thinking I'd go over the pass and head down to the beach. And I ended up in the other direction for no reason I can recall, driving, instead, toward Paso Robles out along the dirt roads that cut perfect squares through my grandfather's vineyards.

I called Conner on my cell phone. I knew there was no way he'd be awake at seven thirty on a Saturday, and I got ready to shut it off if I heard his annoying voice mail greeting.

He answered. Just a grunt.

"Hey, Con."

"What's up, Jack? Damn." I could hear him moving around in his bed. "Seven in the morning. Are you in jail or something?"

"I was going to go to the beach. I was bored. I ended up driving out across the fields toward Paso. I don't know why."

"Maybe it's because you never know where the hell you are," Conner said.

"Want to go to the beach?"

I steered with my knee and held my phone in one hand while I shifted gears.

Conner grunted again.

It sounded like no.

"I'm coming over. Okay?"

"Wake me up," Conner said. "Bring me a Starbucks."

Conner's house was part of a walled-in tract of enormous stucco homes with no yards and fake tile roofs. Honestly, they were built so close together Conner said if his neighbors kept their bathroom window open wide enough, he could take a piss across the gap into their toilet. Good thing they liked their central air. I'm sure Conner would have tried it. And I swear there was never any sunlight that hit the ground between some of those tall houses, but most people in California like living like that nowadays.

Burning my fingers on two paper coffee cups, my bundle of clothes tucked under an arm, I pushed his front door open with an elbow and made my way upstairs to Conner's room. I knew I'd find him sleeping.

I dropped my clothes on his desk chair and put the cups down on the stand next to his bed.

"Coffee's here."

Conner pulled the sheet down from over his head and sat up. He looked at me, nodded, fumbled with his cell phone to check his missed calls, then dropped it on the bed next to him, and took a sip from the coffee.

"Thanks, man." Conner scratched his armpit and yawned. "Looks like we've got a nonstop party for, like, the next couple weeks or so."

My trip to England would be just over two weeks long — a few days shorter for Conner, because I'd be leaving before him and meeting him over there. I'll admit I was pretty nervous about being on my own without anyone I knew there, too, but there was no way I'd say that to Conner or my grandparents. But it was just how the whole thing got set up by Wynn and Stella, and Conner couldn't leave the same day because his brother was coming home from Cal. Family stuff. Like I'd know anything about that.

When I think about it now, it was like everyone involved in the whole thing was playing chicken — seeing who'd be the first to blink.

"I don't have to be back home until Monday or so, just enough time to get my stuff together to leave," I said.

"You want to go get something to eat?" Conner asked. "I don't want to mess up downstairs before tonight."


"Lauren Willis is going to come," he said. "Maybe she'll give you the same going-away present Dana's giving me, so I don't have to hang out for two weeks in the same room with a frustrated virgin who only pretends to never think about sex."

He knew I thought Lauren was hot, even if I didn't really care much about the whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing.

"You think about it enough for both of us," I said.

Conner got out of bed, hair crazy, wearing nothing but stretched-out red shorts. He grabbed his coffee, barefoot-stepped around the glass ice-block wall that separated his bathroom, and turned on the shower.

"Give me a minute," he said.


Everyone was at Conner's party, even people we didn't like. That's how parties are, anyway, once the word gets out. While most of the kids started their drinking games early, I tried to stay straight-headed, at least for a little while.

I liked to think that one day Lauren and I would actually go out on a date or something. Some people believed we would, too — even some of the guys who were always calling me "gay." I'm not gay. Not that it matters. But sometimes it felt like even Conner was testing me on that, and I mostly just wanted people to leave me alone. Because I might be weird, but I really didn't care about sex. To be honest, I was kind of scared of it, even if I did think Lauren was incredible.

So when she showed up with a couple other girls from Glenbrook, I watched her as she walked across the Kirks' tiny front lawn, and I smiled as I greeted her at the door.

When we walked through the living room, Brian Fields saw me and yelled, "Jack and Lauren, sit down and play!"

Brian was a friend of ours. We were all on the cross-country team together: Conner, Lauren, Dana, and me; and he was sitting with five other kids on a big pit couch. There must have been twenty cans of beer on the round table in front of him, so I knew they were playing a drinking game.

I looked at Lauren.

She said, "Okay!"

And that was it for Jack. We got a little overly competitive in Brian's game of Tower, something involving five stacked shot glasses of beer, held up with cardboard coasters between them, and one die.

I didn't realize it, but at some point Lauren had gotten up from the couch and didn't come back.

Conner and Dana blurred through the living room and waved at me.

Nobody was really playing the game anymore, and I suddenly had to get up.

The house was so crowded and hot.

I knew I'd had too much to drink, and was feeling a little sick. I needed to pee, too, which didn't help. But there was a line of girls waiting outside the downstairs bathroom.

Most guys at parties would just pee in the backyard, but I didn't want to go out there, either. I could see Brian and some of the other boys from school sitting in a circle, smoking pot, and I didn't want to get invited into that game, too.

So I went upstairs to Conner's room. I was fully intending to use his bathroom and then just put myself to sleep.

I practically tripped on my own feet making my way down the hall, trailing my hand along on the wall just to steady myself. I pushed his door open and went inside. The lights in Conner's bathroom were on, so the room was dim, framed in the smearing swirl of the yellow glow through ice block.

"Lock the door behind you, numb nuts."

It was Conner.

I just stood there, my back pressed to the door, my hand closed around the latch.

Conner was on his bed, with Dana. He was lying on his back and Dana was straddling his hips, facing away from him, her hands gripping his knees as she rocked back and forth, up and down into him, or Conner into her. She smiled at me, her eyes half-closed.

Neither of them had anything on. Their clothes were scattered everywhere; and Conner just watched me, grinning confidently, his arms folded behind his head like he was lounging in a hammock. He said, "Are you going to just stand there and watch, or do you want to hop in here and have some fun with us? Dana's totally cool with that."

It was one of those situations when there really is no right answer.

Dana kept sliding against Conner, moaning.

They both had their eyes on me.

"I'm sorry, Con. I ... I was just looking for a place to ..."

I turned around and squeezed back out into the hallway. I locked the door before I shut it behind me; and I could hear Conner calling after me, "Jack! Hey! Come on, don't be such a loser!"

I rubbed my eyes and turned back to the door. And I thought, What's wrong with me?

I didn't know what to do. Maybe I should have gone back in there, just to get all this crap over with and prove I was someone other than the person everyone thought they saw — so people like my best friend would just leave me alone about stuff. But I was relieved that I'd locked myself out, too; and as I turned and stumbled down the hall toward the stairway, I could hear Dana on the other side of the door, and Conner called my name one more time.

And I practically fell down the stairs, thinking, I should have stayed in there with them.

I wanted to leave.

And I'd locked my keys and phone upstairs in Conner's room.

But that was probably a good thing.

Downstairs, the music blared so loud I could feel it buzzing up through my legs. The drinking game had evolved into Tip the Cups, and I saw Lauren curled up in the corner of the couch, sleeping.

"Jack! Jack!" someone called. "Come dance. No boys want to dance."

It was one of the girls Lauren came in with. I didn't even know her name. I think it was Ellen or Eileen, or something.

"I'll be right back. I need to pee," I said, and I headed away from the noise and out the front door.

It was good to get out of the stuffiness of the party. There were a couple other guys peeing on the side of the house. No big deal. I knew I wouldn't go back inside. The ground seemed to come up to my feet each time I took a step. I saw my truck parked on the street and wanted to go home, but it took me a few minutes to remember I'd left my keys up in Conner's room with the clothes I'd brought over that morning. I tried to shake the image of Conner and Dana from my head.

"Hey, Jack, want a beer?"

The kid who was peeing next to me pulled a can of beer from his back pocket.


I took the beer and walked across the lawn, drinking as I staggered down the sidewalk in the direction of my home, six miles from Conner's place. The night was so warm, and I was sweating a little, even though I was only wearing a T-shirt and some baggy shorts.

And I don't know where that beer ended up, but I do know where I did. I didn't even make it two miles. I fell to sleep on a bench in Steckel Park.


Excerpted from The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. Copyright © 2010 Andrew Smith. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part One: The Amethyst Hour,
Part Two: The Strange Boys,
Part Three: Blackpool,
Part Four: The Marbury Lens,
Part Five: Seth,

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion:

1. Violence is a major, recurring theme in the book. Jack's story begins with brutality; and the cruelty inflicted on innocents by others resurfaces again and again — in Seth's story, and in what happens to everyone in Marbury. What are Jack's feelings about the brutal nature of his universe? What does Conner think about it?

2. One of the ideas Smith explores in The Marbury Lens is the dynamic found in relationships between males. We see this in the way Jack interacts with Ben and Griffin in Marbury, how he and

Conner get along throughout the book, and even to some extent through Seth's relationship with

Davey and Pa. Compare and contrast Jack, Conner, Ben, Griffin, and Seth. When Jack's in Marbury with the boys, who's in charge? Who's in charge when Jack's with Conner in England or at home in


3. Jack, Seth, and Henry all have one terrible thing in common. What is it? How is this similar/

different between the three of them?

4. Jack keeps coming back to his idea of being at the center of the universe. Discuss the importance of this image as it relates to the entire book.

5. Along with that image mentioned in question 4 (above), Smith once wrote that The Marbury Lens

reveals layer upon layer: There are worlds within worlds, stories inside of stories, the past trapped in the present, and monsters inside of people. How many examples of these layers can you find?

6. In The Marbury Lens, there is enough room for readers to make their own decisions about what is real. What do you think? Is Marbury real? Is Henry real? What clues are you given that Henry really exists?

7. There are many turns in the book that deal with being or feeling trapped, and then escaping. Is

Marbury a trap for Jack, or does he escape something when he goes there?

8. So much of what we learn about Marbury comes only in bits and pieces throughout the story.

Discuss the boys' finding the train, the passengers, the soldiers. What might have happened there?

9. Based on the clues provided in the novel, what explanation could you give for what's going on in


10. Jack endures so many profoundly powerful events through the course of the novel. How does he change by the novel's end? How does Jack mature over the course of his story?

11. Everything in Marbury seems to be without color. There are no stars at night, and the sky never gets completely dark, but contrasts are sharp there. Why all the "colorless" imagery?

12. Discuss the role of setting in the narrative (California, London, Blackpool, and the locations in


13. What do you find out about what happens to the boys after they arrive at the walled city of

Grove in Marbury? How has Ben changed by the end of the book?

14. How would you describe the "voice" of the novel? Is Jack an empathetic character, despite his obvious anger and frustration? Give examples of Jack's tone in his narration.

15. In the beginning, Jack seems uncomfortable and inept at telling lies. He fumbles over explaining his injured ankle to Stella. But the Marbury lens has some major effect on Jack in this regard. Discuss the lies Jack tells later in the book.

16. Discuss the wooden horse Nickie shows Jack and Conner at the airport. Where did it come from? What is its significance? Do you think Seth may have intended it as a message to Jack? How do the boys play off Nickie's finding the horse, and what does it tell you about Conner and how he may have changed?

17. In the beginning of the book, Jack mentions that the things that happen turn him into a monster.

In fact, the only people Jack finds in Marbury that he knows from this world are monsters. Do you think

Jack becomes a monster by the end of the story?

18. In the final lines of the book, Jack makes a decision to do something. What does he do? Is it theact of "a monster"? Is he doing the right thing? Can Jack help himself?

19. AND THE FINAL QUESTION: Would you go there? Even for "just a peek"?

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Marbury Lens 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Nikkayme More than 1 year ago
In the past, I've read books, reviewed them, and said they were entirely unique; unlike anything I've ever read before, but The Marbury Lens truly is just that. I'm not even positive what really happened, but I liked it. I know that much. Right off the bat, Jack gets kidnapped, but narrowly escapes. His best friend Conner wants to help him by getting back at Jack's kidnapper, but things escalate from bad to worse. Jack and Conner attempt to carry on like all is well. They head to England as planned; Jack going a few days prior to Conner, and life appears to be okay. That is until Jack meets a man who gives him these glasses that show him another world. A world that is bleak and despairing, full of killing and death. Jack starts to lose himself in between our world and that of Marbury. The line between reality and fiction begins to blur with his every glance through the lens. This is where things get confusing, for both Jack and me. While Smith's writing is superb, with the stunning visuals of Marbury starkly contrasted with the real world of London, I was lost for the majority of the book. Lost in the sense that I knew what was happening, but I had no clue what it was adding up to. But I think that is exactly the point. Jack loses himself more and more and feels like he is going crazy, so that's what the reader is supposed to feel. Jack's traumatic experience grips his psyche, messes with his mind, and seriously creeped me out. The real world and Marbury swirl together to show this nightmarish image of good and evil. It's haunting, it's eerie, it's absolutely terrifying, but I couldn't step away from it. I couldn't guess what was going to happen next and when I did, I was so far off. There's been quite a bit of backlash surrounding this book, in regards to the language used and the character of Conner. See the thing is, the book is about a 16 year old teenage boy. This 16 year old and his best friend, well, they swear. Quite a bit. Then there's this other thing they do, where Conner frequently calls Jack gay. Now, I'm no expert on teen boys, but my younger brothers are 16 and 14 and I know that they swear and I know that they call each other gay. And sure, calling someone gay as a joke isn't the nicest thing, but it happens. So what if Conner calls Jack gay? That doesn't make Andrew Smith or Conner homophobic. It makes the writing and the character more real and I'm cool with that. I like characters who I can actually imagine walking down the street. The Marbury Lens is twisted and sadistic, morbid and dark, but it is powerful and elegant at the same time. Andrew Smith has unleashed a monster with this one and for those of you who love a story that will haunt you, this is the right book to pick up. Not only does it delve into the hellish land of Marbury, but also the brutal landscape of our own minds and our own world. Just keep in mind that it has many dark themes and is for an older YA audience. There's swearing, there's sex, and there are gory scenes of death, but none of it is gratuitous or done for the shock-factor. It's done because it's right, it fits with the plot and the imagery, and the tone - I wouldn't want it any other way. Opening line: I guess in the old days, in other places, boys like me usually ended up twisting and kicking in the empty air beneath gallows. ~ pg. 3 Favorite lines: Henry believed that Marbury was a world out of balance. He needs to take a closer look at this one. ~ pg. 282
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most interesting books I've read in a long time. I loved reading every single bit of it. It definitely keeps you on your toes throughout the whole thing. Not for the young or faint hearted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Andrew Smith captures teenagers nowadays to a fine point, the plot is riveting from start to finish and you will feel every emotion just as the main character, Jack Whitmore, felt it. You will feel the need to take a peek at " The Marbury Lens " just one more time like a crack addict needs his dirty fix. 5 Star book all around and Best Wishes to to author, Andrew Smith, as well. May his career as an author flourish and prosper and may it never end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is fast paced and very intense. I could'nt put it down the second I picked it up because i was absorbed in the shocking story line that mixes with the scary-ness of reality, then moves into the imaginitive horror-world of Marbury.
AlainaBrown More than 1 year ago
This book was remarkable! I caught myself getting worried and addicted like Jack. I loved the adventure and thrill I experienced while reading this book! The storyline was mind-blowingly good. I can't wait to pick up another book by Andrew Smith. I suggest this book to everyone! Read it; it's full of twists and surprises...never a dull moment or wasted sentence.
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noah steinberg More than 1 year ago
Not a book i would normally read. Kinda perverted but it is not overly so. Really holds your attention and is hard to put down!
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OnlyAli More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this, though it wasn't one of those books where you couldn't put it down. I liked the plot and I wish that the author would just write another for the heck of it. I would definitely read it.
jeff smith More than 1 year ago
Loved the book read in 1 sitting. But not for young kids way too much bad language
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AlternativeMind More than 1 year ago
The Marbury Lens written by Andrew Smith-- his third novel-- was a very thrilling read. Although throughout the book, there were times when things became repetitive and annoying or confusing,I simply enjoyed the book. The characters were exciting to read about and I expressed real emotions towards some. My opinion is simply just out of the fascination I received from reading Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens and the amazing writing skills Smith used within his book. If you like a sci-fi, thrilling, gruesome but somewhat addictive read, then I highly recommend this book.
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