Published by Abrams, Amulet Books on 1st January 2013
Pages: 371 (Hardcover)
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
Okay, so here is a little truth for you: There is no other children’s tale that scared me most as a child than Alice in Wonderland.* I will never forget the first time I heard the story. It was by way of my grandmother and these cassette tapes she bought me called Porch Swing Stories. It was very generous of her, but let me tell you, those tapes were the devil. Pretty much all of the stories were purposefully cranked up in the creepy department and I’m convinced that the person who created such torture devices never interacted with a child. Later, I saw the Disney movie version of the tale and was further traumatized by the damn Cheshire Cat, who was just a little too happy for my taste, and his Wonderland posse. I mean, what was their problem anyway?
Well, I guess that explains it…
Obviously, since losing my heart and soul (as Kat frequently reminds me), being afraid of Alice in Wonderland is no longer an issue for me. But besides that less than disturbing fact, I had to read Splintered because A) The cover is to die for B) The cover is to die for C) The cover is to die for. This level of novel vetting always works for me. That is, except when it doesn’t, but that’s besides the point. Splintered brings such a unique spin on Alice in Wonderland with rich world building, re-imagined characters and a clever plot.
Alyssa Gardener, our protagonist, has a family history of insane women all starting with Alice Liddell. In fact, even her very own mother, who she distantly refers to as Allison, is committed at an asylum. With her strange ability to hear the whispers of flowers and bugs, Alyssa fears she is soon to follow. However, her true fear is ultimately losing her mother to the madness unless she can somehow break the Liddell curse. So she gathers family trinkets (a key, mirror, gloves, hair pin, etc.), repeats history and travels down the rabbit hole only to find it’s not exactly the same Wonderland described in the famous story.
If you are one who, unlike myself, knows the original Alice in Wonderland pretty well, then I think you’ll be very pleased with what Splintered has to offer. Right from the beginning when we are introduced to Alyssa Gardener, I could see the subtle references. But, of course, simply mentioning pieces of the original isn’t enough to make it feel authentic. There’s the vivid descriptions, character mannerisms and, of course, Wonderland-like puzzles and riddles. And that is where I think Howard truly excelled with this novel. She effortlessly wove in the old with the new. So instead of it feeling like a simple retelling, it’s more along the lines of an extension of the original because it’s clear that Howard left no stone unturned when it came to crafting the her Wonderland.
If that isn’t enough to entice you, there’s also this gothic feel the novel carries, especially in the beginning when the mystery of Alyssa’s past is at it’s strongest. Alyssa the skater girl, who likes to wear colored dreds and collects moths for artistic collages. Little things like that added a certain level of charm, but also helped Splintered to stand out as taking a slightly different route as a retelling.
Now, while I’ve been singing praises left and right about Splintered, there are a few things that bothered me. However, I should note that it did not detract from my personal enjoyment from the novel much.
My biggest problem would have to be Jeb, Alyssa’s best friend. I can understand what Howard was going for with his characterization. Present the reader with a character who has to have some type of control over the main character to help show her resulting personal growth by the end of the novel. At least, that’s what I got from it. Unfortunately, this did not work out for me. Why? Because 90% of the time I found Jeb to be a controlling douche. In the beginning, Alyssa wants to go to London to study art, so her dad and Jeb sit down for dinner to decide if she can go. Did I mention that he is only a year older than her and the love interest of the story? Yeah… I wasn’t exactly thrilled with him having so much say in the matter. Yet, I tried to like Jeb. Tried and failed. Every time he went missing from the storyline, I felt myself really enjoying the book, but when he returned? Nosedive. By the end of the book, the only way to describe how I felt for him is to simply say I tolerated him. Basically, I went from stabby feelings to an eye roll whenever his character had dialogue.
Even still was his girlfriend, who has a history of bullying Alyssa. Jeb seems to never defend his best friend, but instead expects Alyssa to try harder with getting along. >_> What’s worse is that Alyssa never really calls him on that. Why should Alyssa have to play nice with a bully? More importantly, why would her best friend ask that of her and never say anything to his girlfriend?
The good thing is that once Alyssa got to Wonderland the annoyances decreased significantly. Alyssa’s characterization picks up and we are introduced to Morpheus. And this might surprise some that know my tastes, but I kinda liked the guy. I think his twisted personality fit in perfectly with Wonderland. But I do think the reason why he didn’t bother me is because I never truly saw him as a contender for Alyssa’s heart. I saw that he had feelings for her and that they shared a connection, but I never thought it would go further than that.
Overall, if you are looking for a richly imagined retelling of Alice in Wonderland, Splintered is definitely the way to go. I had a few mild reservations, but I think most people will probably enjoy seeing just how deep the rabbit hole truly goes. I did and I can’t wait to see what future works Howard has planned.
*Hopefully I didn’t lose too many cool points with you for that strange, compulsive confession.
ARC was received from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review. Thank you!