Refraction by Naomi Hughes

Review by Annalise Fisher

Page Street Publishing, Macmillan Publishers, 5 November 2019

320 pages, hardcover, $17.99 CAD, 978-1-62414-890-3

Ages 14+, Grades 9-12

Young Adult, Science Fiction

The guard unlatches the door and hauls it open. I blink and duck my head as rain bullets inside the cabin, which is why I don’t see Elliott coming until he barrels into me, knocking us both out of the helicopter and into the empty air.

I don’t have time to yell. There’s a blur of grey fog, black sky, silver-blue lightning, and then I crash hard on my back. All the air in my lungs is gone and I can’t inhale. Rain instantly soaks me, slicing cold across my skin. Thunder cracks through the sky. I curl onto my side, trying to inhale. Water sluices into my mouth. I can’t spit it out. I’m suffocating, drowning.

In the novel Refraction,by Naomi Hughes, teenage Marty Callahan is forced to take desperate measures to save himself from an apocalypse, and discovers that there is more to the end of the world than just self-preservation and survival.

 Marty lives off the coast of Florida, on Cisco Island, which is the only city besides London and Singapore that survived “the Shatter.” A year ago when an alien ship appeared in the sky and the people of Earth shot at it in an attempt to defend themselves, the ship shattered into millions of reflective shards that still hover in the atmosphere, releasing a thick fog that covers the globe. Within this fog are dangerous creatures known as “Beings” that attack anyone on sight.

Marty is still waiting for news of his brother, Ty, who was in London right before the Shatter and is willing to do whatever he can to get off the island and find him. Ty was his only remaining family, and the loneliness affects Marty more and more. The reader can feel his desperation. Escape is no simple endeavor, however, because the fog has cut off all electrical power. The only remaining electricity comes from the creation of Beings (which emerge from mirrors, and as such, all reflective surfaces have been banned. To make money, Marty turns to selling mirrors to people who decide that the reward of power is greater than the risk of death.

Marty is given a nearly unbelievable chance to escape by a boy named Elliott, who claims to be part of an undercover police force dedicated to finding criminals who possess dangerous objects like mirrors. He also claims to have information on Marty’s brother and a way to get off the island. But the exchange turns out to be a trap, and Marty and Elliott are forced to help each other to survive in a dangerous world that still has a few surprises left.

Complicating the story is the fact that Marty deals with the effects of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The alien invasion caused his intrusive thoughts and compulsions to flare up, and he fears he can’t ever get it fully under control. The journey Marty goes through isn’t easy, and he is forced to make very hard decisions, but he ultimately is a better person because of it. The way OCD is treated in this book shows how Marty is able to coexist with it and continue his life with the support of friends and family. It serves as a subtle comparison to the forces in the world that have no purpose or reason for being, but must be dealt with nonetheless.

This is a fast-paced novel with complex and compelling characters that push traditional stereotypes of good and bad. Set in a detailed alternate universe reminiscent of the Pendragon series by D. J. MacHale or the Young Wizard series by Diane Duane, it will appeal to anyone with a sense of adventure and a desire to push past fear and find their own brand of bravery.


A graduate of UBC with a degree in German and Creative Writing, Annalise writes things, knits, and plays video games while trying to figure out what to be when she grows up.


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