Book Review: The Lens and the Looker by Lory S Kaufman

Some novels defy categorization.    Lory S Kaufman’s  The Lens and the Looker is billed as young adult science fiction  (and it is) but largely reads like an historical novel set in 1354 Verona, Italy.    It’s the year 2347,  a post-dystopian era that has mastered things like pollution and population control to build a nurturing  society for both humans and AI’s or artificial intelligences.    Each human has his or her own personal AI and the relationship between them reminded me frankly of those between the children and Bradbury’s  electric grandmas.

Hansum is a fairly typical teenager in the community of New York.   He’s a smart kid and often likes to mouth off and get into trouble at school.   Early in chapter one Hansum is told that he is being sent to a history camp– a place where conditions from the past have been re-created to teach young people not to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers which nearly brought the human race to extinction.   Hansum’s mother has worked extensively in the history camp program so he is familiar with it.   And he knows that keeping the campers safe is always the highest priority.

So Hansum isn’t worried about being sent off to history camp,  where he meets up with Shamira and Lincoln.   But when the three teens encounter a rogue, time-travelling  former history camp proctor who whisks them off  to the real 1354 Verona,  it’s not just a game anymore.     And when their new time-travelling friend falls victim to robbers and loses first his time-travelling technology and then his life it turns out the three 24th century teens are back in the 1350’s to stay.   Much of the book is about the three teens’ interaction with the lens maker the boys are apprenticed to  (a recovering alcoholic in an era yet to learn about recovery) and his family,  including a matriarch who is suffering from what might be bi-polar disorder,  again hundreds of years before her disease would be widely understood and treatable.   Kaufman even manages to work in an illicit romance between a young Romero et Giulietta in a nod to Shakespeare’s classic play.     If you enjoy Young Adult novels and/or  have an interest in time travel or history The Lens and the Looker is Highly Recommended.

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