Passenger by Andrew Smith is a young adult paranormal thriller (available October 2, 2012).
Best friends Jack and Conner can’t stay away from Marbury. It’s partly because of their obsession with this alternate world and the unresolved war that still wages there. But it’s also because forces in Marbury—including the darkest of the dark, who were not revealed in The Marbury Lens—are beckoning the boys back in order to save their friends . . . and themselves. The boys try to destroy the lens that transports them to Marbury. But that dark world is not so easily reckoned with.
Marbury seems to be an alternate Earth, although one without a moon. As in other stories, the boys travel through a portal to get there. But Marbury isn’t Wonderland, Oz, or Narnia. It’s a dark, dreary, and dangerous place. One that may have been made even worse by their previous visit.
Jack decides to break the lens in an attempt to close the portal. As it shatters, he looks into the lens.
I fall backwards through the slithering monochrome shapes that writhe up from the floor. I thrash my arms, try to grab hold of anyone, try to shout the names of my friends—I forget how to make the words leave my mouth.
My hand slides over something slick. It is Griffin’s arm and I squeeze a grip on the boy and together we fall and fall through the forever of passing images. Endlessly slow and silent, like we are descending; downward through lukewarm pudding.
Jack finds Ben and Griffin immediately, but they don’t know him. They threaten to kill him, so he leaves to find his best friend Conner. Instead he finds Quinn Cahill. Quinn is young, cocky, and most likely insane. He seems to have the inside track on surviving in this version of Marbury, but Jack knows he can’t trust him.
I could see Quinn, standing awkward and scrawny, naked except for a pair of baggy gym shorts, so he looked like he was maybe twelve years old. And he was talking to a group of soldiers—six or seven of them at least—who were mounted on horses that nervously twitched and shifted, rolling their eyes and throwing their heads back like they knew if they stood still too long the Hunters would come. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Quinn was holding out his white arms, palms up, like he was imploring the riders to believe him. I wondered which one was Fent.
After Jack leaves Quinn’s stronghold, he discovers another pair of glasses. They take him home—or some version of home, where he faces the fallout from being the victim of a prior crime.
“Shouldn’t my grandparents be around? I mean, if you’re a cop and all, and want to talk to a kid?”
“Seriously, John. You didn’t do anything wrong, son. But if you’d like to go inside, we could talk to your grandparents, too. It’s about this thing you may have heard of. A doctor named Manfred Horvath. People called him Freddie. He was found dead. Not a nice guy.”
Jack returns to Marbury to try to put things right so he and his friends can go home once and for all. But after everything they’ve experienced, they may never really feel at home anywhere.
Smith’s dark fantasy asks the same questions all teenagers ask. Who am I? What is my place in this world? What influence can I exert on the world around me? Add to those the question of what is real and the emotional and physical stakes the characters face from beginning to end and you have a first-rate thriller.
The four boys are frequently crude and occasionally violent. Yet they can be caring and kind, especially with each other. Young readers—although not too young—will recognize themselves and their friends, making the story even more immediate and real.
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Debbie Meldrum reads just about everything she can get her hands on. She was the short fiction editor for Apollo’s Lyre and the Editor in Chief of the Pikes Peak Writers NewsMag. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel. You can follow her progress on Twitter at @debmeldrum.
Read all posts by Debbie Meldrum for Criminal Element.