Refraction is Naomi Hughes’ recently published blend of YA Science Fiction and Horror, and is a gripping tale of conquering fear. It’s an account of monsters – both as external physical threats, as well as more personal perils of the mind. At its heart, this is a deeply sentimental story about a crass boy’s unwavering journey to find his brother in a shattered and haunted world, but in the end discovers the goodness that lives in his heart. Along the way he learns to not only trust in others, but in himself, as well. A beautiful fusion of chilling terror and melancholic hope, the pages of this book flew by far too quickly, and left me craving more.
We begin our adventure in Cisco City, one of the remaining bastions for humanity after a devastating extraterrestrial attack. In this alternate version of our own world all must be wary of highly reflective surfaces, because a simple glance at your reflection will summon the fog – and all the grotesque Beings made of deadly shadow it houses. The city’s mayor rules with an iron fist, and after a mirror deal gone horribly wrong, we find ourselves exiled into the persistent fog that blankets the majority of the world, where the struggle for survival truly begins. Hughes takes us on a mysterious expedition with a peculiar, ever-changing landscape, filled with a multitude of unexplained occurrences that kept me thoroughly enthralled throughout. Vividly expressed, these familiar and relatable settings are infused with the weird and wondrous where nothing is as it seems, forcing readers to question events every step of the way.
Expressed using the ribbing voice of Marty Callahan, readers witness first-hand the development and transformation of the two main characters of the story. Marty and Elliot couldn’t be more different – one is a criminal, the other enforces the law; one is selfish, the other is a protector. Their paths cross, and the cruel hands of fate deliver them both to the mainland where Beings reign. Although they’re initially resistant, there is a gradual building of trust and camaraderie, ripe with banter, that takes place as the chapters continue and they continue their way through a desolate Florida. However, secrets continuously threaten to break this tenuous bond that is forming between them. Through these conflicts, we catch glimpses into their pasts, making this a surprisingly emotional narrative. As they evolve, we begin to see them live to their fullest potential, and it’s really a beautiful thing to behold.
While attention to mental disabilities is not something necessarily new in the world of literature, Hughes brilliantly analyzes the ever-consuming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder through the eyes of a character that suffers its brutal effects. Like many disorders, this is one defined and dominated by fear, and one that allows those monstrous fears to manifest, whose sole purpose is to imprison. The use of reflective surfaces to trigger deadly attacks is the perfect way to illustrate the concept that a person’s worst enemy is the one staring back at them in the mirror. Another beautiful touch is a hurricane battering the city and beyond – I found this to be a perfect metaphor for the ongoing, and increasingly taxing mental battle one must face when tormented by their own mind. And finally, addressing these fears, regardless of the dangers they pose, is the only way to begin healing.
I wish I could go into more depth about what Refraction has to offer, but for fear of spoiling, you’ll have to unearth all the stunning and fascinating details for yourself. Completely exceeding my expectations, there’s so much more to this story than I originally anticipated, and I’m thrilled I was able to join Marty and Elliot on their paths to discovery. Replete with nail-biting action, twists and turns, and raw emotion, the revelations are both astonishing and satisfying. If you’re looking for a clever and uniquely executed story of the strength, and importance of family and friendship, this is the one. I highly recommend.